FILM / Rackets, stings, cons and scams: Deep Cover (18)Bill Duke (US); Midnight Sting (15)Michael Ritchie (US); Schtonk] (15)Helmut Dietl (Ger); Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe (18)Istvan Szabo (Hung)

Deep Cover has no big budget, no big hype, no big-name director and no big stars. No big concept either: a policeman is sent undercover to infiltrate and bust a Latin American drugs ring. But this low-profile formula movie is transformed into a real class act by its stylish execution.

Exhibit One: the cast (not famous marquee names, but an array of fine character actors). As the cop, Larry Fishburne - the father in Boyz N the Hood - joins Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes as one of Hollywood's few mature and charismatic black leading men; Jeff Goldblum, playing the oily lawyer / drugs dealer who becomes his accomplice, does his best work for years; and Charles Martin Smith stands out in the shadows as Fishburne's wily little ferret-like superior.

Exhibit Two: the script, co-written by Michael Tolkin, who last year sent out two mordant missives from the West Coast, The Player and The Rapture, an odd piece about the Second Coming. Deep Cover (also set in LA), displays a similarly moralistic, even evangelical edge, and the same confusion and ambiguity. Fishburne earns his assignment when he solves the riddle: 'What's the difference between a black man and a nigger?' (He dispatches it with the contempt it deserves). But he soon sinks into a deeper quagmire of ethnic complexities, where the Jewish Goldblum, the WASP-y police hierarchy and the Latin American statesman / drugs overlord regard each other with contempt and fascination in equal measure.

The ethical puzzles are treacherous too - Fishburne's caught between Smith, who brags that he's God, all-seeing and all-powerful, and the narcotics officer he keeps running into on the streets, a fervent Christian who prays 'Work with me, Jesus' before making a bust. Finally he no longer knows whether he's a cop posing as a drugs dealer or a pusher posing as aE cop. It's all told by Fishburne's gravelly, melancholy voice- THER write errorover, which ends with a challenge - left with yet another moral dilemma, he asks us directly: 'What would you do?'

Exhibit Three: the nervy direction, by Bill Dukes, whose credits run to just one interesting TV movie, The Killing Floor, and the coarse comedy A Rage in Harlem. He takes what should be an action movie and turns it into something nightmarish, meditative and unreal. Peppered with jump-cuts, wipes and fades, the story's less important than the intense show-downs where the antagonists lock eyes and nerves in acerbic, slow-burning verbal scuffles. The disappointment of Night and the City has left some critics lamenting that film noir is dead in the water, but Deep Cover displays many hallmarks of the genre, down to the diffuse paranoia (perhaps the entire operation is a high-level Washington cover- up). It was the most unexpected pleasure to arrive here in many a month.

Midnight Sting is a much lesser movie, but good fun for similar reasons. It too has a terrific, second XI cast. James Woods plays an ex-con who arrives in Diggstown, a quiet backwater whose main diversions are betting and boxing. Here, with the help of his pudgy sidekick (the excellent Oliver Platt) he sets up an elaborate boxing scam in which an ageing pug (Louis Gossett Jnr) will thrash any 10 of Diggsville's finest within 24 hours. The mark: the town's thoroughly nasty Mr Big (the even more wonderful Bruce Dern, whose quizzically pursed lips or elegantly raised eyebrow can convey a world of silky menace). The premise is improbable - Gossett's character is 48, the actor himself 56 - and peters out lamely after one had expected the snaky Dern to supply at least one parting twist. But this witty piece offers many incidental compensations.

Woods' wardrobe of paisley shirts and non-matching paisley ties should be in itself an indictable offence but the technical crime that put him in the slammer was forged Old Masters (his nemesis: they were painted in acrylics). Schtonk] deals with the mother of all scams: the fake Hitler diaries, which were aged, it seems, by steam-ironing tea on to the manuscript. This burlesque comedy makes it clear why the locals were hoodwinked (though you're still left puzzled as to why so many international 'experts' were fooled for so long) - the Germans are fat-cat Fascists still infatuated with all things Fuhrer, even Adrian Mole-style witterings about farting. Unlike Jonathan Pryce's gaunt obsessive in the British TV version of this story Gotz George plays the reporter as a sleazy used-car salesman. The affair is a suave con on all sides, not a grand delusion.

The first-time writer-director Helmut Dietl has an uncertain touch but the film is given a sophisticated sheen by its glittering CinemaScope photography - Xaver Schwarzenberger, one of Germany's best DOP's, shot Fassbinder's last films and even made the dozy 'Otto' movies (phenomenally successful but strictly unexportable German comedies) look like a million dollars.

A too-brief commendation, finally, for Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe, a refreshing return to miniaturism and to his native land by Istvan Szabo after his Euro-turkey Meeting Venus. It's a quietly anguished story of two young teachers scraping by in post-Communist Hungary, shot in the best tradition of East European cinema with a great emotional directness and an eye for everyday details that speak volumes about the larger picture.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas