The Rocket - Cinema Review

'a cynical outlook feels particularly hard-hearted. Yes, Mordaunt’s morality is blunt, but the points he makes are still worth making.'

A cynical view of The Rocket’s win of the Audience Award for Best Film at last year’s 27th Leeds International Film Festival, alongside the many other critical plaudits it seemingly receives wherever it goes, is that this is a crowdpleaser with much less going on under the surface than it would like you to believe. Director Kim Mordaunt has some very worthy messages to deliver, including the heartlessness of big corporations, the scars left long after war, and the all-conquering power of willful optimism. That he at times hurls these messages at the screen through some clumsily clich├ęd writing without developing them a great deal, before moving on to the next moral issue on his list, will probably be forgiven by many because of the winning turns from everyone in the central cast and the feel-good factor behind several portions of The Rocket’s storyline, in particular its final act.

This is a film where a cynical outlook feels particularly hard-hearted. Yes, Mordaunt’s morality is blunt, but the points he makes are still worth making. Nothing should be taken away from the actors here either - their characters may lack subtlety at times, but they bring them to life in an infectiously vibrant fashion that you’ll find it very hard not to be won over by most, if not all involved. It’s a shame that Mordaunt rarely manages to juggle the main collective with the right amount of skill. Taitok (Busri Yindi), for example, starts off the film as a pivotal player in the story, only to be relegated to the background for large stretches beyond the opening act seemingly because the director simply doesn’t know how to include the character in what’s happening.

The same can be said for The Rocket’s plot, which at times feels more like a collection of events that just so happen to occur one after the other. The middle act feels the most muddled - the group decide to travel to Uncle Purple’s (Suthep Po-ngam) deserted, war-torn village without much consideration of what they’ll do once they get there, only to leave not long after arriving and head to a location they decided against only a few scenes earlier. It makes the film seem somewhat aimless at times, but thankfully never to the point of being unenjoyable.

What works much better here is the fable-like qualities Mordaunt infuses into his film in a manner akin to Beasts Of The Southern Wild but considerably more satisfying. Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) spending every day of his young life trying to convince others (and himself) that he isn’t cursed from birth by being a twin - a longstanding superstition in his tribe - is an idea which gives the film a robust personal journey as its central thread, one which is strengthened further by the strong performance from the young actor. Mordaunt’s ability to juxtapose humour with tragedy is also acutely employed, epitomised in the character of Uncle Purple: a devoted James Brown fan who styles his image after the funk musician, who is looked down upon by others in the community because of his apparent vagrancy, and who seemingly harbours a great many demons from a chequered military past.

The Rocket comes out as a film a little too lacking in the development of some of its ideas to ever approach greatness, and which may leave you feeling a little shortchanged by its moralistic strands. But, at the same time, this is a film both lucid and crisp on the screen which brims with performances aching for you to remember them, and that will almost certainly have won you over to some degree before the credits roll.

The Rocket is out in select UK cinemas from today.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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