Thrillingly risky business

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Film Theatre -

CRITIC’S CHOICE A Most Vi­o­lent Year 15 cert, 125 mins þþþþ This is a neck-prick­ling moral thriller set in New York City, 1981: sta­tis­ti­cally speak­ing, the dead­li­est 12 months in the city’s his­tory. From the shores of Brook­lyn, you can just about see Man­hat­tan in the dis­tance, the sky­line of the fi­nan­cial dis­trict lead-blue and gleam­ing. For Abel Mo­rales (Os­car Isaac), that kind of suc­cess re­mains a dis­tant dream, but he’s mak­ing bet­ter progress than most, run­ning a heat­ing-oil business with his wife Anna (Jessica Chas­tain). The company, though, has been hit by a re­cent spate of hi­jack­ings, with gun­men hold­ing up fuel trucks. When Abel pur­sues one of th­ese trucks and finds a gun on the way, the temp­ta­tion for him to use it, and play by the city’s rules rather than his own, is over­whelm­ing. JC Chan­dor’s film gives the Amer­i­can dream an au­then­tic tex­ture. Here, suc­cess is even scarier than fail­ure: it’s a noc­tur­nal fan­tasy, se­duc­tive and ablaze with threat. Rob­bie Collin ALSO IN CIN­E­MAS The Gam­bler 15 cert, 111 mins þþ This Ru­pert Wy­att re­make of a Karel Reisz thriller from 1974 veers some way away from the orig­i­nal and never works out why its lead character – Jim Ben­nett (Mark Wahlberg), a failed nov­el­ist, a self-loathing col­lege lec­turer, an over­grown trust-fund brat and an in­vet­er­ate black­jack ad­dict – is the way he is. At least the plot adds up. When the film be­gins, Ben­nett is in six fig­ures of debt to the owner of an un­der­ground casino, and is given seven days to set­tle his ac­count. He tries to do this by bor­row­ing vast sums of money from var­i­ous de­monic en­ti­ties. Wy­att’s 2008 prison-break thriller, The Es­capist, show­cased a se­ri­ous flair for rangy, Sev­en­ties-style ma­cho fun. But while that film twisted, all The Gam­bler does is stick. RC

IEx Machina 15 cert, 108 mins þþþþ Ava, the hero­ine of Alex Gar­land’s tricksy sci-fi, is a ro­bot whose thought pro­cesses are sparked by the terms mil­lions of hu­mans are key­ing into Blue Book, an in­ter­net search en­gine. Caleb (Domh­nall Glee­son), a Blue t’s four years since I last went run­ning. I used to have a reg­u­lar beat that took me up and down the val­ley two or three times a week, all weath­ers, but I fell out of the habit and the longer I left it, the more daunt­ing it be­came. It was par­tic­u­larly cold and un­invit­ing when I set out yes­ter­day, plod­ding res­o­lutely through sop­ping grass, scat­ter­ing sheep, down to the river where Book em­ployee, wins a staff lot­tery to bear wit­ness to the company’s top-se­cret new prod­uct. He must get to know Ava (Ali­cia Vikan­der) and de­cide whether or not she can pass for a hu­man be­ing. This is be­witch­ingly smart sci­ence fic­tion – its in­tel­li­gence is any­thing but ar­ti­fi­cial. RC I found my­self com­pletely alone and mo­men­tar­ily dis­con­nected from the push and pull of daily business. And that was when I re­mem­bered how much I liked it. The river had burst both banks and the whole of the bot­tom of the val­ley was flooded, but in the time it had taken me to get there it had be­come a beau­ti­ful af­ter­noon: pre­cious Jan­uary Mort­de­cai 12A cert, 107 mins þ Mort­de­cai: mort de cinéma, more like. David Koepp’s film, which is based on the half­for­got­ten Charlie Mort­de­cai comic nov­els by Kyril Bon­figli­oli, is a psy­chot­i­cally un­funny art-heist romp in which a broke aris­to­crat (Johnny Depp) prances round on the trail of a miss­ing paint­ing, while Jock Strapp (Paul Bet­tany), his Kato-like manser­vant, re­mains ei­ther a few steps be­hind or ahead. The film’s con­cep­tion of jet­set­ting glam­our and in­trigue is pure Alan Par­tridge. It’s hard to think of a way in which the ex­pe­ri­ence of watch­ing this film could be any worse, un­less you re­turned home af­ter­wards to dis­cover that Depp him­self had popped round while you were out and set fire to your house. RC sun­shine play­ing on a vast mir­ror, still and silent. I picked up mo­men­tum. The flood­wa­ter came half­way up my shins, cas­cad­ing in thrills of freez­ing spray as I danced all across that huge mir­ror. Snipe zigzagged out of the reeds by the sub­merged foot­bridge as I raced over into the forests on the far side. The sun­light was bril­liant now, shoot­ing through the trees hor­i­zon­tally, prob­ing the se­crets of the mossy floor. A mouse darted at my feet. I turned a cor­ner and star­tled a doe that must have weighed as much as me. The hill­side was so slip­pery I was prac­ti­cally on all fours climb­ing. Then, a few mo­ments later, I was ca­reer­ing down the slip­pery bank on the other side, crash­ing through streams, vault­ing gates, my whole Soli­tude: run­ning can clear your head body steam­ing and splat­tered with mud. Once I’d been out for an hour or so and had re­ally hit my stride, it be­came un­can­nily easy to con­cen­trate. In the space of three fields, with­out even re­ally try­ing, I found that I solved a prob­lem that had been nig­gling away at me all week. But as I reached the top of the next hill, the sun was be­low me and I be­gan to won­der if I would make it back be­fore dark. I didn’t have a head torch with me, so I pushed on hard and made it back just as night was fall­ing on the farm. I’d been out for three hours and hadn’t en­joyed any­thing as much for ages. The worst thing, which I’d for­got­ten, is that my fin­gers and thumbs get re­ally cold. I hadn’t seen a soul: no dog walk­ers, no strolling cou­ples: no one. I’ve al­ways found Jan­uary a beau­ti­ful month in the depths of the coun­try­side. Try to get out there and en­joy it.

Dark: ‘A Most Vi­o­lent Year’ stars Os­car Isaac and Jessica Chas­tain as a cou­ple liv­ing in 1981 New York

In­tel­li­gent de­sign: Ali­cia Vikan­der stars in sci-fi film ‘Ex Machina’

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