How I Live Now - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
KEVIN Macdonald’s adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s Young Adult novel How I Live Now is a better genre entry than most because of the director’s willingness to take some risks.
Rather than merely focusing on the love story element, Macdonald has opted to explore the social and practical implications of the story surrounding it, while utilising his own skills as a documentary filmmaker to bring an added touch of realism.
Hence, the film has an immediacy lacking in a lot of young adult material, while also embracing the darker elements. The violence is often shocking, the emotions raw and complex and the look of the film grittily authentic.
Set in England in the near future, the film picks up as American teenager Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) arrives in the country to stay with relatives in the countryside, only to fall in love with eldest cousin Edmund (George MacKay).
But their idyllic summer days are cut short when terrorists detonate a nuclear device in London, prompting marshal law, and the separation of Daisy’s new ‘family’. Sent to work in a labour camp with her youngest cousin, Daisy subsequently escapes in a bid to get back to Edmond.
Admittedly, the weakest element of the film is the central romance between Daisy and Edmund, which slow-burns and struggles to generate too many sparks.
But the film works as well as it does because of the surrounding elements and Macdonald’s decision not to spoon-feed audiences everything. Hence, you have to fill in some blanks yourself, which makes a lot of the material more intriguing.
The darker elements, either concerning Daisy’s emotional vulnerability or the repercussions of the terrorist strike itself, are also well handled, especially the moments before and after the nuclear blast, which unfold from the confused and frightened perspective of the teenagers and carry a realistic and haunting quality. You can sense the loss of innocence as it blows away in the ash-laden breeze.
There are several other moments that will shock, too, and which possess an eery quality thanks to the realistic way in which they have been shot. Macdonald overcomes budget limitations by adopting a more quasi-documentary style and his picture benefits as a result.
He also draws strong performances from a cast of young Brits with bright futures ahead of them. Ronan, as we all know, excels at this kind of stuff and once again delivers a layered, nuanced performance as the not-always likeable Daisy, while MacKay (who can also be seen in this week’s Sunshine on Leith) has a quietly brooding presence that also showcases a heightened sensitivity to the suffering going on around him.
Tom Holland builds on the good work he did in The Impossible, while Harley Bird (aka the voice of Peppa Pig) also contributes to some memorable scenes as the scared 10-year-old Piper (moving well from early precosciousness to outright terror).
Hence, while certainly boasting familiar genre elements (especially if you’ve already seen films like Tomorrow, When The War Began), and some other flaws in relation to some of its pacing and a subdued final act, this has plenty to recommend it.
Running time: 101mins
UK Release Date: October 4, 2013