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Incendiary

Year: 2009
Production Co: Wild Bear Films
Director: Sharon Maguire
Writer: Sharon Maguire/Chris Cleave
Cast: Michelle Williams, Ewan McGregor, Matthew Macfadyen

Every actor knows a sure fire way to get critical attention is to play a role that occupies the polar opposite of everything we imagine about actors' lives (chauffeurs, tennis courts, endless coke, beauty and riches).

So you'll see them all play one of the social afflictions that affect the rest of us for dramatic kudos at one time or another. Whether it's being fat (Heavy), ugly (Monster), sick (Philadelphia) or mentally disabled (I Am Sam), I often find myself smirking cynically at such flagrant award grasping.

That's not to say they can't sometimes turn in good performances playing people Hollywood types consider horrifically disadvantaged, but which the rest of us just consider part of life.

But I'm picking on Michelle Williams a little too much for playing the unnamed chav narrator. Stuck in a loveless marriage to a bomb disposal expert, she finds herself drawn to doggedly determined, crumpled and charming reporter Jasper (McGregor) from across the road, who keeps chatting her up in the pub. Figuring one quick fling her husband doesn't know about won't hurt anyone while he and their son are at a soccer match at a London stadium, the timing couldn't be worse.

On the TV in front of the shagging couple, suicide bombers attack, killing hundreds – including her family. As she silently pleads 'please let them be all right' over and over you can see the guilt that will come to define her bearing down, the cornerstone of a very good performance by Williams.

Jasper introduces and carries a light thriller element as he digs into camera footage and thinks he can identify one of the bombers, and as she seeks out the bomber's family and awkwardly befriends his young son, she's also drawn to her husband's former boss (Macfadyen), who is as lonely as her and might be her salvation until Jasper discovers the secret he's been harbouring about the bombing.

But in the end it's more about guilt and redemption than any signposted plotting, and abstract, at times ambiguous visuals take us inside her disintegrating psyche. It goes off in some strange directions – such as the extended sequence where she believes her son is still alive and comes home to her – but the production is slick and the script and performances heartfelt.

What little I've read about it is fairly negative, I gather it's become a target for criticism almost by mass cultural agreement among those who've seen it, but it's not nearly as bad as you might have read.

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