PAYDIRT

Cert 15 Stars 2

Christian Sesma writes and directs this low rent violent revenge heist crime thriller with the over-excited unthinking sleazy schoolboy sensibility of a 1990’s music video, and is all too impressed by his ability to make his characters ability to swear and shoot. Occasionally at the same time.

Far better than the material deserves, former Bros drummer Luke Goss is a confident and likeable presence as a recently released convict mixed up with bad cops, the Mexican cartel and a stolen bag of cash, while poor Val Kilmer looks desperately unwell as a Sheriff chasing them all.

INFAMOUS

Cert 15 Stars 3

Online popularity and armed robbery race hand in hand  in this flashy and shallow crime thriller which sees a pair of small town teenagers go on an impromptu crime spree and catapult themselves to social media stardom.

Writer and director Joshua Caldwell precision-targets his older teenage audience with a fluorescent online video energy by anti-authority posturing, splashing huge text across the screen and drowning every shot in saturated colour and soundtracking it with pop, creating a contradictory examination of chasing acclaim through extreme behaviour.

It’s this year’s second 21st century update of Bonnie and Clyde, but thriller Queen & Slim possessed sharp commentary on racial prejudice, and this lacks the lyrical poetry of 1973’s Badlands, and lacks the phosphorescent star power and period glamour of Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in the classic 1967 version.

The anti-heroes here are determinedly down market, Jake Manley improves as he relaxes into his role as the junior partner in crime, the barely articulate grease monkey Dean.

While as Arielle, former teenage star of the Disney channel Bella Thorne is a swaggers through an arresting and unrestrained confrontational performance as a cannon who’s not so much loose as scattershot and manic.

UNHINGED

Cert 15 Stars 4

Russell Crowe rampages back into cinemas in this brutal road rage thriller which courts controversy by offering sympathy for his maniac character who drives the action.

The Oscar winning star of Gladiator is one of my favourite actors and he delivers a double-barrelled performance as Tom, a regular guy who’s suffering a breakdown of the nervous variety, and who begins a campaign of terror against a fellow motorist who impatiently beeps at Tom on the morning school run and refuses to apologise when Tom asks her to.

This sly attempt at victim-blaming by the script is an attempt to lure us into a moral trap by encouraging us to sympathise with Tom, a self-pitying brute and the manifestation of the frothing anger of a certain type of disenfranchised middle-aged blue collar bloke.

The relatively unknown actress Caren Pistorius is equally great as the single mother subject to Tom’s violent fury and she’s given a brilliantly funny killer line which will probably define her career.

And the moral waters are further muddied by her realistic flaws such using her phone while she drives, meanwhile Tom uses smartphone tech to target her family and friends en route to kidnap, arson and some serious vehicle damage.

With a career-long appetite for meaty roles which allow him to chew the scenery, Crowe now appears to be twice the man he used to be, and his enormous bulk provides a Terminator-like imperviousness during Tom’s remorseless pursuit.

Tom’s such a relentless and magnificent monster this almost qualifies as a horror film, and it can be parked alongside Michael Douglas’s 1993 classic Falling Down for its mix of topical social commentary and terrific popcorn thrills.

Unhinged was a great re-introduction to cinema on my first trip since lockdown and as part of a safe and socially distanced audience it was brilliant to once again experience the unique excitement of watching films on the big screen.

 

THE TRAITOR

Cert 15 Stars 4

Compelling, weighty, stylish and violent, this real life criminal drama is based on the riotous ‘Maxi Trial’ of 1987, the largest anti-Mafia trial in history, and the life of paranoia which follows for it’s star witness.

The brooding Pierfrancesco Favino delivers a magnificent performance as Tommaso Buscetta, a Sicilian Mafia ‘soldier’ who to protect his third wife and baby child became one of its first members to turn informant.

Losing his job, money and status, his devotion to honour and the truth sees him emerge a somewhat heroic and noble character – at least compared to his former colleagues.

THE LOVEBIRDS

Cert 15 Stars 3

A pair of likeable stars bring a breezy freshness to this otherwise by-the-numbers romcom caper and do enough to divert you from the feeling you’ve seen it all before.

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani play Leilani and Jibran, lovebirds who risk becoming jailbirds when a road accident unwittingly involves them in a high powered blackmail conspiracy and a night of being chased by the police and a relentless gun-toting bad guy.

Being in possession of a phone containing compromising photographs of prominent people, they’re chased around from dinner party, to bars, and to a masked ball which unsurprisingly turns out to be populated by high society swingers.

Being tied up, assaulted and forced to dress very badly allows them to learn truths about each other and reevaluate their relationship.

If this sounds familiar well you’re probably thinking of Steve Carell and Tina Fey in 2010’s Date Night, or Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams in 2018’s Game Night, and possibly a few more besides.

Where this is notably different is in the casting, as it’s still regrettably rare to see an African-American and a Pakistani-American headlining even in this sort of modest Hollywood fare.

The script is blind to their ethnicity except when gags are made about police prejudice, and even this is balanced by the vaguely sympathetic investigating officer also being African-American.

Rae is bright, vivacious and the more funny and ballsy of the two, though that doesn’t take much, as Nanjiani would probably be the first to admit he’s far from being an Alpha male.

He’s amiable screen presence and his throwaway comic asides on modern life are delivered in the passive aggressive style manner he demonstrated in 2017’s romcom success, The Big Sick, for which he was Oscar nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

A mainstream entertainment not trying to change the world, The Lovebirds provides sufficient chuckles in its enjoyable, undemanding and disposable way.

WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE!

Cert 18 Stars 4

Head bashingly brutal and tense from the off and a blood bath of carnage and corruption, this nasty and funny comedy thriller is a vicious commentary on modern Russia and definitely not for the squeamish or easily offended.

After a stand-off in an apartment between a detective cop and a young man who claims to be his daughter’s boyfriend, we flashback to see how the characters arrived there with murder in mind.

It involves shotguns, drills and hammers, and if the kitchen sink isn’t thrown into the mix, it’s only because they’re too busy throwing TV’s at each other.

 

CALM WITH HORSES

Cert 15 Stars 4

Ferocious, unrelenting and assured, this Irish crime thriller is a  superb contemporary tale of revenge, loyalty and family, a powerfully bleak study of modern masculinity and a wholly impressive debut from director Nick Rowland.

An ex-boxer turned enforcer for a clan of down market drug-dealers is teamed up with the family’s unpredictable protege to punish a gang member for a sexual attack, but when the pair are ordered to murder the perpetrator events take a desperate turn.

Cosmo Jarvis and Barry Keoghan are terrific as Arm and Dymphna – the reluctant heavy and his tough talking but weaselly ambitious companion – and their little and large pairing and has distant echoes of mismatched pairings such as 1969’s classic Midnight Cowboy.

Rowland skilfully creates a menacing atmosphere and moral murk as strong as the cast’s accents, and though he handles the brief shifts into action and horror with aplomb, this is a foremost character study and the careful inclusion of Arm’s ex-girlfriend and their young son offers a sliver of hope and redemption.

QUEEN & SLIM

Cert 15 Stars 4

Fear and harassment on an online date leads to violence and a desperate bid for freedom in this confident, muscular, accomplished and heartbreaking US crime drama which always feels authentic and never exploitative.

When a white policeman is shot after he’s pulled them over, black citizens Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya try to escape to communist Cuba, a destination full of implicit criticism of US capitalism and its historical relationship with slave labour.

By turns thrilling, funny and moving, their journey progresses from being a road trip expose of US racial divisions to a lyrical love story, with a script which digs into ideas of social mobility, role models and solidarity.

However TV reports and social media bestows an unwelcome air of celebrity on the outlaw pair, feeding negative stereotypes and helping perpetuate a cycle of oppression.

As a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, Turner-Smith and Kaluuya make a combative and sexy pair, and shockingly overlooked by the major awards the British acting duo could at least have expected some recognition from the BAFTAs.

END OF WATCH

Stars 3

The writer of the Oscar winning smash hit Training Day, returns with another gritty police thriller set in South Central LA, but with a Denzel Washington-shaped hole where the charisma should be.

Writer and director David Ayer, shot entirely on location in fidgety, semi-documentary, police-cam video style, creating a loud and tense gun and drug movie where the highest ambition police officers have is to survive their shift and have their timesheet signed off, End Of Watch.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Mike Zavala Michael Pena are patrol car partners who come across a safe house belonging to a Mexican cartel who immediately put a price on their heads for disrupting their lucrative drugs trade.

The cops aren’t the brightest guns on the street but they are mostly honest and unquestioningly brave. Patrolling is a series of verbal abuse, brutal fist fights and vicious gun battles, and even the music is aggressive.

Off duty, Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez provide strong acting support as their wives, with America Ferrera and Frank Grillo as their fellow officers.

Watching this film is like being trapped for two hours in a small steel cage with a pair of uniformed, squabbling, slurping, chattering caffeinated kids, before being released on a regular basis to be shot at by angry Uzi abusing gangsters.

Ayer doesn’t wholly commit to his handheld format which reduces its authenticity, and the last two scenes are unnecessary and lessen the films impact.

Despite this the two officers hold your sympathy and attention because although they’re not as interesting or entertaining as the film believes they are, even the most basic police work involves being screamed and shot at.

Their wives are the only lightness in their lives and in the movie and are a sweet and sassy counterpoint to the constant aggravation the men experience on duty.

This is a portrait of a city in a state of siege, and the only advice the script can offer is to wear comfortable shoes and a bulletproof vest.

LIES WE TELL

Cert 15 110mins Stars 2

Despite some big names in the cast, there’s a lack of flair in all departments of this determinedly downbeat and dull urban drama.

And the novelty of seeing the city of Bradford on the big screen isn’t sufficient to recommend it.

Hollywood superstar Harvey Keitel must have been paid by the word for his brief appearance as Greek family man and billionaire businessman, Demi. 

Meanwhile Gabriel Byrne cuts a baleful figure as his loyal driver, drawn into the violent world of Demi’s beautiful British-Asian mistress, Amber.

She’s played by the hard working Australian actress Sibylla Deen who’s best known for her role in soap opera Home And Away. However along with much of the supporting cast, she typifies the TV production standards on show. Scriptwriter Ewen Glass previously worked on Hollyoaks.

Indian born and British-raised director Mitu Misra mixes arranged marriages, sexual abused and compromising videos into the plot, but never manages to generate any heat from his hot-button issues.