FINEST * * *
Cert 18, 132 mins
From Antoine Fuqua, the director of Training Day, comes another cop drama starring Ethan Hawke which asks questions about their sometimes dubious ways of enforcing the law.
We follow three NYPD officers over the course of a week as they each face conflicts. Eddie (Richard Gere) has just seven days to retirement and isn’t about to rock the boat.
He starts every day with a shot of whisky, has a relationship with a prostitute and would rather look the other way than stop a crime.
Tango (Don Cheadle) is an undercover cop, dealing drugs for the greater good. When boss Ellen Barkin tells him to set up his childhood friend Caz (Wesley Snipes), he wonders where his loyalties lie.
Sal (Ethan Hawke) is desperate to move his sick wife Lili Taylor, who’s pregnant with twins, and their already over-large family out of their cramped, mouldy house.
He’s a devout Catholic but still kills people in his reckless bid to get cash.
I’m all for writers investing time in character development, and we do begin to feel sympathy for their plight, but at times this film is so slow that it loses our interest.
The tension does build eventually as we progress towards a melodramatic conclusion, in which the three cops are brought together in the same building and not all of them get out alive.
A well made and acted film but ultimately rather pointless. RL
LETTERS TO JULIET * * *
Cert PG, 105 mins
Every year tourists flock to the ‘real’ home of Shakespeare’s heroine Juliet in Verona. Hundreds of lovelorn girls write letters to Juliet, asking advice. And every evening they are collected up, read and replied to by her ‘secretaries’, volunteers of the Club di Giulietta.
It’s a charming idea and one that’s at the heart of this romcom, which means well but drips in sugary sweetness.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is a fact-checker for The New Yorker, who longs to be a writer.
She sees her chance to pen a story when she heads off with fiancé Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal) on an Italian holiday. He’s a chef who wants to find suppliers for his new restaurant. She has more romantic ideas in mind in gorgeous-looking Verona.
Intrigued by the letters to Juliet, she follows one of the secretaries and ends up helping them out, finding a yellowing letter that’s been hidden for 50 years.
It’s from an English girl, Claire, who was going to run away with her Italian stallion Lorenzo but chickened out.
Prompted by Sophie’s reply – in the first of several unlikely turns of events – Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) travels to Verona with her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan).
Against Charlie’s wishes, she tries to find her first love and Sophie goes along for the ride, as Victor is more passionate about food than her.
It doesn’t take much deduction to realise Sophie’s initial dislike of ‘cold fish’ Charlie will turn to love as they travel around Italy.
Egan’s Australian background shows in his false-sounding posh English accent. Redgrave’s performance is touching, but generally this romcom is far too schmaltzy. RL
BLACK DEATH * * *
Cert 15, 102 mins
While the North-east’s leading director Neil Marshall has arguably grabbed the bigger headlines for movies like Dog Soldiers and The Descent, Bristol has its own budding horror maestro – Christopher Smith.
And after Creep, Severance and Triangle, he’s showing real signs of coming of age with this bubonic plague movie set in1348.
No-nonsense knight Ulric (Sean Bean) uses a young monk called Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) to lead him to a marsh where people are apparently being brought back to life.
Unlike Triangle, which turned into a by-numbers Hollywood chase thriller, Smith sensibly chooses to engage viewers in the wider battle between religion, witchcraft and affairs of the heart.
When Osmund meets the mysterious beauty called Langiva (Carice Van Houten) which way will he turn?
Necessarily dark and violent, Black Death’s chief failing is its struggle to actually end. But getting there sees Bean, as watchably earthy as ever, finally stretching himself on screen. GY
GREENBERG * *
Cert 15, 107 mins
Ben Stiller is used to opening high profile comedies like Night at the Museum, not low-key dramas like this one from The Squid and the Whale’s Noah Baumbach.
His character Roger Greenberg could have had a high-flying career in music, but instead he became a carpenter and then had a nervous breakdown.
Although house-sitting for his brother in LA gives Greenberg an opportunity to re-evaluate his life, he just seems to take us round and round in circles in terms of what might have been.
Greenberg may be good with wood, but Stiller is pure Polyfilla as he tries to plug the credibility gaps in a messy script which features one of the most ludicrous sex scenes in history. GY