Films of the week: An astute insight into escalating US drug culture
Saturday 12 January 2013
Storyville: the House I Live In
(Eugene Jarecki, 2012) Here is a detailed, clear-sighted and frequently devastating investigative documentary about America's 40-year so-called "war on drugs": a set of initiatives and laws whose unintended consequences have been so disastrous that they amount to what one contributor, The Wire's David Simon, describes as a class-based (rather than race-based) "Holocaust in slow motion". *****
On Dangerous Ground
(Nicholas Ray, 1951) Robert Ryan stars as a world-weary city cop who, after roughing up one suspect too many, is exiled to snowy, upstate "Siberia", where he teams up with a vengeance-sworn father on the hunt for a child-killer. In the end, it's about redemption, compassion and love, but Nicholas Ray couldn't produce a false sentiment if he tried. Ida Lupino co-stars as a blind witness. ***
(Catherine Corsini, 2009) Kristin Scott Thomas plays an English woman who abandons her bourgeois life as a doctor's wife in the south of France for a passionate love affair with an immigrant Spanish builder (Sergi López). And Scott Thomas's tour de force performance lends what might otherwise seem an overheated or over-familiar melodrama, real heft and emotional intensity. Yvan Attal and Bernard Blancan also star. ***
(Aaron Katz, 2010) Cold Weather looks like every other mumblecore indie about a diffident twenty-something college dropout in Portland, Oregon – until its hero turns amateur sleuth. Then, while maintaining every scrap of its scruffy and seemingly artless naturalism, it also turns into a properly involving comedy-mystery thriller. Which is actually a very clever trick. Cris Lankenau and Trieste Kelly Dunn (both above) star. ****
(Quentin Tarantino, 1997) Paying tribute to the blaxploitation genre, Quentin Tarantino cast Foxy Brown's Pam Grier in this Elmore Leonard adaptation, as a sassy airline stewardess who smuggles drugs on the side. She was a revelation in the role, and Samuel L Jackson, Robert De Niro and Robert Forster make up the rest of a quality cast in what remains Tarantino's most classy and controlled film. *****
(Michael Mann, 1999) The 33-year-old Russell Crowe gives a very believable performance as Jeffrey Wigand, a 57-year-old executive at a big tobacco company who blew the whistle on his employers' nefarious practices to the US television journalist Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino). From this true story, Michael Mann fashions one of his most compelling and intelligent paranoid thrillers. Christopher Plummer co-stars. ****
Sense and Sensibility
(Ang Lee, 1995) A very pleasing and handsomely mounted adaptation of Jane Austen's novel about two sisters' search for some eligible husband material, with a screenplay by Emma Thompson that is fully alive to all of its ironies, deft direction by Ang Lee, and a good-looking cast – including Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman – which is well suited to light comedy. ****
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