Cinema: The best gangster flick in ages

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels 18

The Horse Whisperer PG

The Spanish Prisoner PG

The Real Howard Spitz 18

The Proposition 12

Who'd lumber a movie with a dumb title like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels? First-time writer-director Guy Ritchie, actually. Fortunately, this is his only major lapse of judgement. His cockney gangster flick easily outguns any recent attempts upon the genre (Antonia Bird's Face, JK Amalou's Hard Men), and is funny, violent and stylish enough to become an instant cult - especially with people who think that the Krays were all diamond geezers who kept their manor safe for old ladies to walk in.

Essentially, it's bloodthirsty farce, satisfyingly choreographed: a bit like a Ray Cooney play in which cash, drugs and guns have replaced sexual gratification as the plot's objective correlative. The dramatis personae - from its pretty-boy card-sharp hero (Nick Moran) to the freak show of broken-nosed, lantern-jawed yobbos that make up the supporting cast - are violent ne'er-do-wells to a man. Hatchet Harry (PH Moriarty) is a porn king who bludgeons his enemies to death with a monster dildo; his henchman Barry the Baptist (Lenny McLean) earns his nickname by drowning his victims in a barrel; Yardie mobster Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood) is a psychopath in a lounge-suit. They're all after money rather than love. Which isn't surprising, perhaps, in a film that offers a granite-brained debt-collector called Big Chris (played by footballer Vinnie Jones) as its highest moral authority.

Ritchie has an excellent ear for deadpan Cock-a-knee patter, and Jones's lunkheaded delivery is one of the movie's principal pleasures. Ritchie's decision to put him in a longish two-handed scene with Sting (playing Moran's tough-nut dad) is inspired. As I watched Britain's two most wooden actors playing their lines like a pair of almost-animated chipboard planks, I was overcome by a feeling of indescribable joy.

If you love Robert Redford as much as Robert Redford does (which I'm not sure is possible), you'll have a great time at The Horse Whisperer. Nicholas Evans's middlebrow bestseller is the inspiration for this glossy weepie, in which Redford stars as Tom Booker, a Marlboro man with a knack for soothing neurotic nags. Enter Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas), an uptight Tina Brown-type magazine editor with a troubled heart and a disturbed horse. Luckily for Booker, women and ungulates respond to similar treatment: a calm gaze, a quick squeeze of fetlock and suddenly both Annie and Pilgrim the horse are eating out of his hand. Nobody mentions that if this was real life, Tom would have bow legs and smell like Fred Quilley from Hi-de-Hi.

It's the women and animals who carry the film's emotional burden: Annie bites her lip and wails, her daughter Grace (Scarlett Johansson) sulks, and Pilgrim gallops the gamut of equine angst. But Redford just stands there in his denims and bumless leather pants, exuding irony-free, karmic quietness. Other egotists who direct themselves - Warren Beatty for example - go to the trouble of performing for the camera. Redford seems to think that allowing his audience to gaze upon his wrinkled blondness under a honey-coloured Montana sunset is quite enough to justify the admission price.

The Horse Whisperer is two and a half hours of banal moralising on the evils of modern living. Urban spaces are windswept and unfriendly; Midwestern cornfields are spanned by rainbows and populated by unblinkingly virtuous pastoral types. More creepily, Redford also seems to disapprove of the cosmopolitanism of the urban environment: the only non-white faces we see are in the bitchy inferno of Annie's office. And he seems to be making the same point with the food in his movie. Annie's trendy fruit bowl (full of unAmerican exotica like starfruit) is treated with suspicion - in sharp contrast to the warm close-ups he lavishes on the mashed potato and steak consumed by his Aryan cowpokes.

Watching David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner is a bewildering experience. It begins neatly enough, as a hall-of- mirrors suspense movie in which the inventor of a top-secret industrial process (Campbell Scott) strikes a bargain with a mysterious businessman (Steve Martin). In comparison to earlier Mamet thrillers (Homicide, House of Games) the twists and turns of The Spanish Prisoner are easily anticipated, as the film totters towards an unsatisfactory finale that would have better suited Naked Gun 21/2. Discussing these problems in any detail, of course, would make seeing the movie a pointless exercise. Unfortunately, it's a pretty pointless exercise anyway.

There are simple pleasures to be had from Vadim Jean's The Real Howard Spitz, in which Kelsey Grammer plays an antisocial crime writer who writes a hit children's book about a (metaphorically) hardboiled detective cow. The slapstick finale is mishandled, but Grammer burns with misanthropic wit, and is well-served by a sparky script. It's not the Frasier star's big cinematic breakthrough, but it's a step in the right direction. He's still on the up.

Which is more than you can say for Kenneth Branagh, whose career seems to be in meltdown. He's trapped in a three-picture deal with Polygram, and forced to participate in disasters like Leslie Linka Glatter's The Proposition. Branagh plays a Catholic priest in Thirties Boston, who impregnates a Virginia Woolfish novelist (Madeleine Stowe). The dialogue is abominable:"Who will draw your bath for you, so that you can luxuriate in bubbles from Paris?" The Proposition was due to be sneaked out straight to video this month, but perhaps sending it out into cinemas was a smart idea. As Father Ken came cantering through the Massachusetts autumn, cassock billowing in the wind, it suddenly looked like this week had spawned a second potential cult. MS

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace