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Get Carter Mike Hodges (18) n Heart Charles McDougall (18) n Among Giants Sam Miller (15)

n Other Voices, Other Rooms David Rocksavage (12)

FIRST SEEN in 1971, Get Carter is a gritty gangland picture which today seems both of its time and ahead of it. The social and moral dinginess of 1970s Britain is everywhere apparent, whether in the stale fug of a saloon bar, the ugly cut of a suit or the gloating misogyny of its titular antihero. Yet the film's treatment of sex and violence is surprisingly modern, and a harbinger of the laconic hardnuts of The Sweeney.

Its director, Mike Hodges, draws on the traditions of revenge tragedy and hard-boiled crime fiction. Carter (Michael Caine) is the suavely suited hitman who journeys from London to Newcastle in search of his brother's killers and immerses himself in a seedy underlife of property developers, local hoods and desperate landladies. What initially seems in him the mild impersonal style of the career criminal turns out to be the true instincts of the cold-blooded killer - by the end Carter has become an implacable urban avenger to rival Lee Marvin in Point Blank.

Caine is absolutely in his element - mean, moody and, in his tough talk, occasionally magnificent. The supporting cast don't let him down. John Osborne does an unsettlingly camp turn as the local Mr Big, while you may feel nostalgic as a troupe of middling Seventies character actors - Ian Hendry, George Sewell, Bernard Hepton - flit in and out of the plot. In its back streets and betting shops, Newcastle itself provides a grimly insistent presence, and the finale, set against the slag-heaps on the North Sea coast, is a damning picture of industrial wantonness. Social document, study in sadism, revenge thriller - however you wish to regard Get Carter, it's required viewing.

Why does everything Jimmy McGovern touch always end in hysteria? His script for Heart picks up from where his last feature involvement, Priest, left off: lashings of sex and violence lent spurious gravity by anguished Catholic symbolism. Christopher Eccleston plays a man so tortured by the perceived infidelity of his wife (Kate Hardie) that he collapses from a heart attack. He is set right by a subsequent heart transplant, though it proves no cure for his pathological jealousy. If he was hysterical before, he's even more hysterical now, and soon he's beating at the door of the skinny writer (Rhys Ifans) who's been cuckolding him. Meanwhile he's also being stalked by the mother (Saskia Reeves) of the lad whose heart supposedly saved him.

This rather congested plot motors along quite nicely until McGovern decides that things have become too realistic. So he ladles on extraneous melodrama about incest and screwed-up Catholic motherhood while Charles McDougall, the director, whips his cast into a frenzy. I think the idea is to send everyone - actors, crew, audience - into a massive cardiac seizure. The brutality of the action is shocking, yet quite unearned: by the time its gruesome denouement arrived, the viewers at the press screening were in open revolt.

McGovern could learn a thing or two from Alfred Hitchcock, who understood that extremes of emotion can be most effectively conveyed when nothing at all appears to be happening. Until then, I'd advise a course of medication, starting immediately.

Among Giants is notable for a script penned by Simon Beaufoy, who wrote The Full Monty, and the lineaments of his famous hit are apparent here. A further bulletin on the industrial North's decline, it stars Pete Postlethwaite as the gaffer of a misfit crew of odd-jobbers, and jobs don't come much odder than their latest: three months painting 15 miles of electricity pylons across the Yorkshire moors. Into this atmosphere of bluff male camaraderie comes an Aussie backpacker (Rachel Griffiths) who finds romance in the unlikely arms of the gruff Postlethwaite (pictured below).

Beaufoy and the director Sam Miller reveal what was famously well hidden in The Full Monty, but the rest is pretty ordinary fare: "earthy" dialogue, campfire singalongs, and traditional maleness under fire from economic realities. What's surprising is the reliance on playground profanity as a source of wit - there's not a single line you'd like to hear quoted again. Postlethwaite and Griffiths lend sturdier support than the film perhaps deserves.

The spirit of Blanche DuBois is never far away in Other Voices, Other Rooms, David Rocksavage's adaptation of Truman Capote's semi-autobiographical first novel. Southern languor is the order of the day as 13-year-old Joel is summoned to a crumbling plantation house where the father he hasn't seen for 10 years lies immured and immobile upstairs. Lothaire Bluteau and Anna Thomson are intermittently hilarious as the fey, distracted couple who mind him, but the film's somnolent atmosphere and torpid pace squeeze most of the life out of Capote's lyrical remembrances.