Also Showing: Training Day (18) <br></br> Nightshift (15) <br></br> Shallow Hal (15) <br></br> Atanarjuat (nc) <br></br>D-Tox (18) <br></br> The Fluffer (18)

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The Independent Culture

In his latest outing, Training Day, Denzel Washington finally busts out from the straitjacket of righteousness to indulge a little satanic majesty. He plays Alonzo Harris, a flamboyantly corrupt cop in the LAPD narcs division who dresses like a drug dealer, drives a pimpmobile and delivers justice from the end of his twin pistols. The film is set over a day in which Alonzo breaks in a rookie cop, Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), who's ambitious to make detective. Alonzo's method is to provoke and rattle the new boy, and his message is that if you want to catch a criminal you've got to start thinking like one. An hour or so into the job, Jake has already been forced to smoke crack, beat up a couple of punks and help his senior partner make an illegal bust. "You gotta decide", Alonzo keeps telling him, "you wanna be a wolf or a sheep?"

Jake would prefer just to get through the day in one piece, but a complication in Alonzo's shady wheeling and dealing forces the younger man into a drastic dilemma. The film is pretty conventional in its plotting, and occasionally exorbitant in its violence, but it's kept alive by Washington's livewire act and Hawke's more contained performance. David Ayer's screenplay bristles with profane tough talk, and in one or two scenes he catches the sour stink of organised venality. Some may find it difficult to excuse the whopping coincidence towards the end which saves Hawke's life, and the film as a whole could have been trimmed by 20 minutes. Nevertheless, it's safe to say that Alonzo Harris is about the worst possible advert for the LAPD since Richard Gere in Internal Affairs.

Philippe le Guay's Nightshift is a factory-floor drama reminiscent of Laurent Cantet's superb Ressources Humaines, only here the conflict takes a more personal and disturbing turn. Pierre (Gerald Laroche) is the new nightshift worker at a bottle factory; despite (or perhaps because of) being a regular guy, he becomes the target of malicious pranks orchestrated by wildman Fred (Marc Barbe), whose aggression gradually escalates from needling to psychopathic.

Le Guay offers no explanation of Fred's tormenting of Pierre, other than a tacit suggestion that humankind will always have its bullies and its victims. The perspective is interestingly tilted when Pierre's 12-year-old son catches sight of Fred trying to humiliate his father during a chance encounter in a supermarket. This exquisitely embarrassing scene inverts the dramatic norm: the child suddenly feels protective towards his bullied father, though later will be disaffected by his apparent weakness.

The film, while sympathetic towards Pierre, doesn't entirely demonise Fred, who may be more damaged than we know. Le Guay's balanced observation is compellingly embodied in the performances of Laroche and Barbe, whose loutish menace will be hard to forget.

Kings of gross-out humour the Farrelly brothers try a little tenderness in Shallow Hal, a comedy about love and lardiness. Hal (Jack Black) is a hopeless buffoon who judges women only by their looks until a mystical hypnosis from a self-help guru effects a radical change: now he sees "inner beauty" as its physical counterpart. Thus, when he meets Rosemary, an obese Peace Corps volunteer, he sees not a gigantic fatso but the svelte shape of Gwyneth Paltrow. The film still has fun with fattiness, of course, either through slapstick or through the disbelieving horror of Hal's friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander), who says all that's unsayable about ugly girls. "Did you ever hear the expression 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder'?" someone asks him. "Yeah, and did you ever hear the song 'Who Let The Dogs Out'?" It ill behoves Hollywood to preach about perceiving inner beauty, but as with most Farrelly comedies some of it is laugh-out-loud funny, and Paltrow – in both fat and skinny modes – is extraordinarily touching.

Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) is a visually striking adaptation of an ancient Inuit legend about survival and the bonds of community. Director Zacharias Kunuk develops the story at a pace that may be too languid for some (it lasts nearly three hours), yet, filming in the Canadian Arctic, he captures an amazingly eerie sense of place and light – a landscape that seems to stretch out to infinity. Some scenes, punctuated only by the creak of footsteps on snow, are overstretched, but others have a proper weight and purpose: check out one of the coldest and longest chase sequences ever recorded, as a naked man is pursued by three assailants over a frozen tundra.

Rivalling the Canadian Arctic as the emptiest-looking place on earth should be any cinema where they're showing D-Tox, the latest attempt by Sylvester Stallone to relaunch his flagging career. A group-in-peril thriller, it pits burned-out FBI agent Sly against a killer of such tenacity that he follows his intended victim to a snowbound asylum for recovering addicts. Mayhem ensues among a cast (Jeffrey Wright, Tom Berenger, Kris Kristofferson) who mostly deserve better.

You needn't seek out The Fluffer, either, a dull-witted stroll around the lower reaches of the LA gay porn business, though I did learn a new word from it. A "fluffer" is the person on a film set entrusted with stimulating a porn actor's most vital asset prior to shooting. For all I know there may even be a union.

AQ

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