How I Live Now review

How I Live Now sees Macdonald – director of Touching The Void, The Last King Of Scotland and State Of Play – take on a young adult novel about a young woman, Daisy (Ronan), who is sent from America to the English countryside to spend time with her cousins when the worst happens: a nuclear bomb turns a peaceful landscape into a hellish warzone. As Daisy and cousin Piper (Bird) walk the warzone, meeting friends and foes, trying to make it home to see young cousin Isaac (The Impossible's Holland) and Daisy's lover Edmond (McKay). And yes, the lover is also her cousin.

A war drama through the eyes of innocent children isn't anything new – a notable recent example is the intense and harsh The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas – but How I Live Now tries to avoid a lot of that element for the sake of focusing on a love story between the two older characters, a love that makes them both go above and beyond in the middle of terrible circumstances to be together. It's hard not to compare the basic elements to recent young adult novel adaptations ssuch as Twilight and The Hunger Games, and annoyingly the film rarely makes it easy to avoid such thoughts, with long lingering shots of the two staring at one another, a hushed voice-over throughout that tells us more than we ever need to know, and every action scene is shot like Gary Ross is about to show District 13 up in arms.

But another film adaptation that How I Live Now strongly resembles is John Hillcoat's version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, with two figures walking dangerous and unknown landscapes in the middle of some testing times for humanity, facing vile thugs who threaten all decency in life. But both of these films structurally share an element, they often feel like a series of chapters. A few chapters of story close, then another begins, a stop-start momentum that means the film lags at times when the pressure wears off, and the film introduces the next force to move characters around, and this happens a few times, increasingly making the audience tired of such technique, and stopping the characters from doing anything that really motivates the action beyond running. Lots of running. Sometimes walking.

After a rather slow opening segment of before the war countryside film, the film settles for bland romance amid mediocre war drama, all of it shot like Paul Greengrass were behind it, and with no characters staying the course with the audience. How I Live Now has a simple and interesting premise, a look at a third world war through the eyes of innocents, but its need and desire to appeal to teen girls with an awful romance, even with the heightened swearing, violence and sex in the film, mean that it's hard to pin down just who this film is for. One thing's for sure, it's not for this reviewer.
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SECOND OPINION | Stuart O'Connor ★★★★
How I Live Now is a compelling drama that, for the most part, works very well. It feels at first like a coming-of-age film, but quickly turns into a tale of survival as war breaks out. It's atmospheric, compelling and moving, and best of all it has another magnificent performance from Saorise Ronan. Well worth a look.

How I Live Now at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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