ATONEMENT * * * *
Cert 15, 123 min
Was there really a ferris wheel on the beach at Dunkirk in 1940? I don't know but so persuasive is director Joe Wright in capturing the almost surreal otherwordly atmosphere of chaos, confusion and fear of the hours before the evacuation I'm prepared to believe there was. It seems perfectly inappropriate.
Featuring an already legendary single four-minute shot, Dunkirk provides the middle section of Wright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton's condensed but generally very faithful adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel.
It's here that Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) has come, enlisting to cut short a prison sentence for raping Lola Quincey (Juno Temple), the knowing adolescent cousin of Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley), for whose upper-class family his mother (Brenda Blethyn) served as housekeeper. Except, he didn't do it.
Five years earlier, he was identified by Cecilia's younger sister, Briony (Saoirse Ronan), a 13-year-old with a fertile imagination.
The reasons are complex. Robbie was put through Cambridge at the same time as Cecilia by her father, but, as we meet, she seems distant, brittle. However, an incident involving a broken vase, a fountain and a crude letter she was never meant to see has unlocked the mutual passions both have sought to deny.
Unfortunately, ignorant of the context, Briony witnessed the scene at the fountain, has been privy to the note, and caught them in flagrante in the library.
It is her misreading of the situations and the sexual confusions over her own feelings that prompt the damning accusations.
Accusations which, in the film's third act, set in wartime London, will lead the now 18-year-old trainee nurse (Romola Garai) to seek out her estranged sister, also a nurse, to confess to and atone for her lies.
For those who have not read the book, suffice to say a modern-day coda with the aged Briony (Vanessa Redgrave) - now a successful novelist - affords the shatteringly bittersweet revelation of just how that is achieved.
Although Patrick Kennedy's given little with which to make an impression as Cecilia's brother Leon, there's good support work by Benedict Cumberbatch as his smug chocolate manufacturing chum, Marshall, and Gina McKee as a tough but compassionate nursing sister while Daniel Mays provides welcome comic relief as Robbie's fellow soldier.
The central performances are electrifying. Conjuring the classic stars of the 40s silver screen, a never-better McAvoy and Knightley magnificently suggest the churning emotions behind their reserved facades while Ronan, Garai and Redgrave are all note perfect in the different incarnations and different emotional states of the pivotal Briony.
Guaranteed to add further awards to those garnered by Wright's Pride & Prejudice debut, it's not, ultimately, quite up there in the BritLit league of The English Patient, a film with which it has thematic kinships, but it's heart-crushing yet, finally, ambiguously uplifting tragic romance is prestige cinema of the finest quality.
RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER * *
Cert 18, 119 min
Seven years ago, the 1995 murder of three drug dealers at a remote Rettenden farm provided the inspiration for brutish crime thriller Essex Boys.
Now, following up Rollin' With The Nines, director Julian Gilbey and co-writer brother William revisit the scene for a purportedly true account of the murders and the events leading up to them.
However, while they provide the bloody climax, the film itself is a biopic of Carlton Leach (Ricci Harnett), a leading figure in the Essex underworld.
Narrated in the first person, Leach's story begins in the 70s as a notorious West Ham football hooligan and follows him over three decades and two marriages as he graduates to club bouncer and then gradually builds his empire on a foundation of protection, punishment, and drugs, getting into steroids and ecstasy along the way.
He eventually links up with medallion man Tony Tucker (Terry Stone), wannabe Craig Rolfe (Roland Manookian) and psychopathic thug Pat Tate (Craig Fairbrass), the latter being trio who (as detailed in the grisly bookending morgue scenes) wound up splattered across the car windscreen.
Taking Goodfellas as his model, although it's far too long, stumbles in the rave era section and offers three possible versions of the murders, Gilbey demonstrates undeniable directing flair and knack for characterisation. This is nothing if not very well made and acted.
From the terrifying football battles to the punishments carried out by Leach and his firm, it doesn't stint on the sickening, bone-crunching violence either.
But where are sympathies supposed to lie? Although Leach refuses to get involved in the drug scams of the now-cocaine-addled Tucker and he's not in the same mad dog league as Tate, he's still happy enough to nail someone to the floor.
No one's likeable and there's no one with whom to identify, but Gilbey evidently sees the misogynistic and ruthlessly brutal Leach as an anti-hero, even endowing him with a muddied form of morality and honour. It's a problematic ambivalence in a film that's hard to ignore but harder to actually enjoy.
DISTURBIA * *
Cert 15, 104min
Guilt-ridden over his father's death in the jolting opening car crash, Kale (Shia LaBeouf) has gone from role model teenager to withdrawn, disruptive influence. Now, having decked a teacher, he's been tagged with a bleeper and placed under house arrest.
Bored, with mom (Carrie-Anne Moss) out at work, he takes to spying on the neighbours. On the one side, there's new girl on the block Ashley (Sarah Roemer) whom he and ethnic comic relief friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) drool over as they watch her in the swimming pool.
On the other, there's Mr Turner (David Morse), a creepy loner whom Kale quickly becomes convinced is a serial killer. Now all he and voyeur cohorts Ronnie and Ashley have to do is find the proof.
Yes, it's Rear Window for high-tech teenagers. Except, of course, director DJ Caruso is no Hitchcock and LaBeouf's no James Stewart.
It takes forever to set things up but since Morse doesn't even attempt to be ambiguous, there's no "is he, isn't he?" suspense. Then it's into a frantic final formulaic 20-minute catand-mouse chase round the obligatory darkened house as the film proves it's no Silence of the Lambs either. Disturbia? No, it won't.
RUN FAT BOY RUN * *
Cert 12A, 100min
His hilarious cameo in 2000's Love & Sex aside, David Schwimmer's never found success as an actor outside Friends. His plodding feature directing debut suggests he's not going to be any luckier behind the camera, either.
But he's not the only disappointment. Simon Pegg's screenplay shows little of the comic wit demonstrated in Shaun of The Dead or Hot Fuzz, reliant instead on 70s sitcom humour that takes in such tired conventions as the cartoon Indian, gayphobic gags, comic clothing, bared buttocks, flatulence and falling over a lot.
And let's not forget the staple hilarity of someone being splashed in the face by bodily fluids. In this instance, puss from a blister. Do blisters even have puss? And, if we're being picky about plot points, you can't actually get arrested for buying spare tickets off a tout!
Plot, you ask? Five years after doing a panicked runner on his wedding day, leaving pregnant fiancée Libby (Thandie Newton, presumably at a loose end that month) at the altar, unfit security guard Dennis (Pegg) has weekly visits with his young son and wishes he could win her back.
So, when he discovers she's dating Whit (Hank Azaria), a smarmy rich American who's running in an upcoming marathon, he declares he'll do the same hoping to show he's a changed man.
Yes, it's all about running in the right direction.
Cue silly training sequences with chancer best mate (and Libby's cousin) Gordon (Dylan Moran) and spatula-wielding rolypoly landlord Mr Ghosdashtidar (Harish Patel) as his coaches.
And that's pretty much it. Moran dryly steals scenes and, while Pegg doesn't exactly stretch himself, he's an engaging loveable loser, even finding a touching note of poignancy when he tells Libby it was better to spoil her day than ruin her life.
Ultimately though, this is light on laughs, a predictable mildly amusing third-division Richard Curtis screenplay that thinks five-year-olds and pensioners swearing is funny.
SMALL ENGINE REPAIR * * *
Cert 15, 102min
First-time director Niall Heery makes no secret of his love for alt-country and American independent cinema as he moves everything lock, stock and honky tonk to rural Ireland for a story of a small-town loser discovering his backbone, waking up to the betrayals of others, and chasing his dreams.
Iain Glen delivers one of his best performances as Doug, an aspiring country singersongwriter too scared of rejection to let anyone hear them, other than his best friend, repair shop owner Bill (Steven Macintosh). Life having already given him a good kicking, it sticks the boot in when he finds his live-in girlfriend in bed with another bloke.
Eventually cajoled into leaving a demo with the local country radio presenter and singing a song at the bar owned by mutual buddy Eddy (Gary Lydon), Doug suddenly finds himself hailed as a rising star.
This in turn gives him the self-confidence to confront Burley (Stuart Graham), an old friend recently returned from prison, bitterly obsessed with discovering who shopped him when a hit-and-run left a young girl dead.
Meanwhile, Bill's desperate to recover the toolbox he lost to Burley in a card game and which he sees as his last hope of keeping son Tony from leaving the business and home.
What with cheating women, feuding men, dead end lives, emotional healing and dreams of leaving, the narrative could be a country song itself, which was apparently Heery's intent.
As such, the notes may be familiar but, with haunting photography, solid performances and well-observed dialogue, they're still well worth hearing.
PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES * * *
Cert 12A, 125min. Subtitled
Alan Ayckbourn aficionados will recognise the title of his comedy of manners, here relocated to Paris by veteran director Alain Resnais for an insightful character study about how stifled communication can keep us from the companionship we crave.
Structured as a series of short scenes, it entwines the lives of several characters. While they're being shown apartments, Laura Morante and Lambert Wilson gradually come to realise they're not really suited to being a couple.
Seeking advice from Pierre Arditi, the bartender at his favourite drinking den, Wilson makes a blind date with unlucky in love lonely hearts regular Isabelle Carre, whose older brother, André Dussollier, is actually their lonely middle-aged estate agent.
He, meanwhile, has been watching video cassettes of a religious programme lent him by his devout secretary, Sabine Azéma, which turn out to also contain erotic home movie footage of her. In turn, she's moonlighting as temporary carer for the beaten-down Arditi's aged foulmouthed bedridden father.
Despite the annoying fluttering snowflakes that mark the many scene transitions, the affecting bittersweet sadness and gentle humour that suffuses this film make it a beguilingly melancholy affair.