Thrillingly risky business
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’