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New release movie reviews - 12 October
WUTHERING HEIGHTS ***1/2 (129 minutes) MA
Making good on the too-often ignored movie-making maxim that any remake needs to be sufficiently different from all previous versions to justify its existence, British director Andrea Arnold's fresh take on Emily Bronte's eternal tale of endless love in a cold climate is a raw, sensual, surprising treat. Cathy (Shannon Beer plays her as a youth; Kaya Scodelario as an adult) bonds with the vagrant Heathcliff (Solomon Glave; James Howson) with the aid of moors' inclement weather and a handheld camera trained on capturing the invigorating power of strong winds and wild grass. Bearing about as much resemblance to the famous 1939 film starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon as chalk does to cheese, Arnold employs the jagged, realist style that defined her excellent films Red Road (2006) and Fish Tank (2009) to great effect. Her close-ups of lovelorn faces will please Bronte fans no end.
LAWLESS **1/2 (116 minutes) MA
Deep in the Virginia highlands, the illegal moonshine-making business run by two heavily accented brothers (Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy) comes in for a major shake-up when slimy, Prohibition-loving Chicago lawman (Guy Pearce) moves in with his guns and axes. Directed by John Hillcoat and written by Nick Cave - their previous collaboration The Proposition (2005) ranks as one of best Australian films of the new century - this American drama boasts rich, atmospheric cinematography by Benoit Delhomme (who shot The Proposition) and strong performances from a top-shelf cast, including Gary Oldman and the ubiquitous, ever-impressive Jessica Chastain. Still, the true-life tale, based on the 2008 book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, lacks focus and forward momentum. Every time things heat up, the film down-shifts just long enough to keep you from getting too engaged in the characters, some of whom disappear for reels before popping up again. The film takes particular pride in its ultra-vivid, anti-Hollywood portrayal of gun violence; when it hits, it does so without relent or recourse to cliches as bullets tear into bodies that refuse to instantly fall. Lawless is also noteworthy for containing a performance by Shia LaBeouf that involves neither spittle or giant robots. Seems like he might not turn out to be the most annoying actor of his generation after all.
SHADOW DANCER *** (99 minutes) M
Set at the height of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland in the early 1990s - an era now thankfully consigned to history - single mother and IRA bomber Colette (Andrea Riseborough) is caught in the act and presented with a stark choice by MI5 agent Mac (Clive Owen): go to prison for life or work for him. This involves the dreaded Sophie's Choice of betraying her family so she can keep close to her son. Director James Marsh, best known as an outstanding documentary director - Project Nim (2011) and the Oscar-winning Man on Wire (2008) - fashions a taut thriller out of tough material, much of which pinwheels on a compelling central performance from Riseborough (W.E; Made in Dagenham) as a woman trapped in a tightening emotional vice.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY *** (97 minutes) MA
It's all mood and brooding menace in this tense, downbeat American drama by Australian writer/director Andrew Dominik (Chopper). Brad Pitt stars as a self-consciously professional hitman called in to clean up the mess after a card game heist goes wrong. The killings are gruesome, yet this wily, cliche-averse crime film is far from the blastfest one might expect. Dominik proves his sharp ear for dialogue as characters desperately try talking their way through or out of increasingly sticky situations. A terrific cast - including Ray Liotta, Michael Jenkins, James Gandolfini and a particularly greasy, sweat-smeared Ben Mendelsohn - light up the dimly lit locales and mean streets. Based on the novel Cogan's Trade by George V. Higgins, the film closely follows the style of the classic 1973 Robert Mitchum flick The Friends of Eddie Coyle, also based on a Higgins's book.
THE WORDS *** (102 minutes) M
Fearing his career will never take off, struggling New York writer Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) stumbles across an aged manuscript in an old piece of furniture and passes it off as his own. His life improves immeasurably - his ever-supportive partner (Zoe Saldana) adores him; previously rejected books get published - but, inevitably, his sins catch up with him. The payback, however, is not quite what he expects in this modest, engrossing morality tale about lying, guilt and just how great a character actor Jeremy Irons has turned into.
THE WEDDING PARTY ** (97 minutes) MA
This clumsily cobbled, tonally confused romantic comedy sees a financially failing suburbanite Steve (Josh Lawson from Any Questions for Ben?) enter into a sham marriage with a beautiful Russian woman Anna (Isabel Lucas). It's a terrific premise with strong leads (Lucas does Russian very convincingly) but is sadly derailed by too many side stories, the key offender being the off-putting tale of a married man addicted to bondage. Directed by first-timer Amanda Jane, the film opened the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2010 and has been edited down from about 110 minutes. The problem? The rating. If the film had gone for a PG - or an M at the most - it could have been a smoother ride.