Film: Also Showing

Psycho: Gus van Sant (18) The Siege; Edward Zwick (15) ; Darren Aronofsky (15) Angel Dust Sogo Ishii (n/c)
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GUS VAN Sant's Psycho is not a remake of Hitchcock's 1960 classic, but a reproduction. The distinction is significant, because a remake at least allows the possibility of differences in tone, perspective or interpretation, whereas a reproduction is bounded by its fidelity to the original. Van Sant's scene-by-scene copy exists in the same relation as a replica print to an old master. It's well made, it may even sell, but it remains basically unsatisfying.

Hitchcock's film presents Van Sant with two distinct problems, in that it is both a one-off and absolutely part of its time. The casting of Anthony Perkins in the original was key, and Vince Vaughn, great in Swingers, is too much the strapping country boy to play a disturbed loner like Norman Bates. Anne Heche is more comfortable in the Marion Crane role, yet she also has the most difficult job of all: acting like someone who knows nothing of the iconic world of Psycho. Hitchcock's film has colonised a patch of our dream life, and of our movie-fed language - it seems impossible that Heche doesn't realise that a) you don't stop anywhere called the Bates Motel, b) you don't ask Norman about his mother, and c) you certainly do not step into that shower.

Saul Bass's austere credits and Bernard Herrmann's ominously busy violins can be replicated with impunity, but cleaving to Joseph Stefano's original screenplay lands the 1999 version in terrible trouble. Can anyone nowadays utter the words "A boy's best friend is his mother", as Norman does to Marion, and not risk being jeered out of the room? At the end, the passage of nearly 40 years becomes apparent when the doctor examining Norman explains to the cast in painfully prolix detail what's happened in Norman's mind - a speech reproduced verbatim from the 1960 script. No doctor nowadays would make the concept of schizophrenia sound quite so unusual, indeed exotic. When Van Sant does try to update - Norman, eye against a peephole, masturbates as he watches Marion undressing - it feels plausible but over- explicit.

Hitchcock fans can relax, because nothing can diminish his Psycho. This version isn't a sacrilege - it's just pointless.

The Siege is a slam-bang action thriller about terrorism that's intended to make American blood run cold. Islamic militants have infiltrated New York. Denzel Washington heads an FBI task force to smoke them out, backed up by a CIA operative (Annette Bening) who has contacts with the terrorists. Both are helpless to prevent the bombing of a Brooklyn bus and a first- night theatre crowd on Broadway. Once a suicide bomber takes out the FBI's headquarters at One Federal Plaza, it's a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man. It's Bruce Willis, of course, playing a hawkish army general who declares martial law on the city. Tanks roll down the streets, Brooklyn is sealed off and hundreds of young Arab-American males are herded into makeshift detention centres.

The director, Edward Zwick, knows what incendiary stuff he has on his hands, and occasionally digresses to pour oil on the troubled waters: he casts Tony Shalhoub as an Arab-American FBI agent whose son is interned during the round-ups, and raises the spectre of US guilt over CIA training of Islamic terrorists. But this is overwhelmed by the hysteria of the film's central premiss: there are strangers among us who would bomb our homes and kill our children. The Siege made certain Arab-American groups hot under the collar on its US release in November, and it's not hard to see why. The movie's unspoken feeling is that, in the land of the free, some are still freer than others.

Darren Aronofsky's directorial debut, , sounds like a contradiction in terms: a thriller about mathematics. Yet the 29-year-old has parlayed this unpromising subject into something genuinely offbeat and original. A reclusive maths prodigy, Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), is on the cusp of a momentous discovery. Based on his credo that everything can be represented and understood through numbers, Max thinks he can discern a pattern in the fluctuations of the stock market, though he has enemies from within and without. Plagued by migraines, he is also persecuted by a Wall Street syndicate and a group of Hasidic greybeards who believe he has unlocked the secret name of God.

Shot in high-contrast black and white, the film keeps us guessing as it burrows deeper into Max's psyche: is he getting closer to the truth, or to a complete mental crack-up? Aronofsky has a fine eye for detail, suggesting patterns of correspondence in the whorls of a seashell, the leaves on a tree, even the cream in a cup of coffee. I'm not sure whether his film makes any sense at all, but it's at least brave enough to take an audience's intelligence for granted - an achievement in itself nowadays.

There's not much coherence to be found in Angel Dust, a Japanese thriller in which a beautiful analyst (Kaho Minami) is seconded to the Tokyo police force, baffled by a series of rush-hour murders on the underground. The victims are all young women, the method is a lethal injection, and the chief suspect is a psychiatrist who specialises in deprogramming brainwashed cult loonies. Sounds intriguing, for sure, but director Sogo Ishii muddies an already nebulous plot with dream sequences and gender ambiguities.


All films are on general release from tomorrow.

Adam Mars-Jones writes about remakes on page 10