Fair Game, Doug Liman, 106 mins (12)
The Company Men, John Wells, 104 mins (15)
Battle: Los Angeles, Jonathan Liebesman, 117 mins (12A)

A true story, compellingly acted – but I don't remember the Iraq war being this predictable

According to Hollywood's Iraq war movies, the entire Bush'n'Blair debacle was a foregone conclusion: everyone knew from day one that Saddam Hussein had as many unicorns as he had weapons of mass destruction.

I don't remember it being quite that simple, but the characters in Green Zone, Redacted, Lions for Lambs et al are so sure of themselves that the films have a told-you-so smugness and a deadening air of preaching to the converted. That applies to Fair Game, too. It's one of the most propulsive and important films to have been made about the war, but you can guess which line it's going to take even before you see Sean Penn's name on the cast list.

It's the true story of Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), a CIA agent who had her cover blown in 2003 after her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson (Penn), wrote an article criticising the Bush administration. Wilson demanded to know which White House source had leaked his wife's secret career to the press, but the right-wing media were more intent on smearing the couple as traitors and, ironically, self-publicists. The film takes far too long to reach this turning point, but in the meantime the screenwriters sketch out the Wilsons' marriage and working lives with admirable clarity, while the lead actors are as compelling as ever. It's also one of the few films to spotlight the harm done to Iraqi citizens by the US military. The others prefer to see their traumatised American heroes as the sole casualties of war.

Fair Game is never quite as thrilling as it should be, though, mainly because the treatment of the WMD issue is so simplistic, however heartily you might agree with it. If the pro-war lobby's ramblings about aluminium tubes and yellow-cake uranium had been as blatantly fanciful as they are in the film, then there's no way anyone would have been fooled.

Part of the problem is that the Wilsons' persecutors don't get much of a say. Scooter Libby (David Andrews) pops up every now and then to do some bullying, but otherwise the film-makers – or their lawyers – are frustratingly cautious about naming and shaming the journalists and the White House officials who should have been the villains of the piece. We keep hearing that the powers that be are out to destroy the Wilsons, but we don't hear who those powers that be are, or how exactly they're going to destroy anyone. It's a David and Goliath tale in which Goliath is never seen.

The Company Men is another film which isn't going to rock anyone's liberal worldview. An ensemble drama that feels more like an HBO mini series, it stars Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper as three executives who are laid off by a global shipping firm after years of loyal service. That's about it as far as plotting is concerned. In lieu of a story, The Company Men just takes its characters through the indignity of attending demeaning job interviews and – horror or horrors – realising that they might have to sell their Porsches. It's mature and measured, but also completely unchallenging, right up to its conclusion that big business is unfair and that happiness is built on an honest day's work and a loving family. When a film is trying to get us angry about corporate greed, it shouldn't be as mild and reassuring as this.

The Iraq war, meanwhile, hovers in the background of Battle: Los Angeles, an alien invasion movie which – like Cloverfield, Skyline and Monsters before it – adopts the perspective of the man in the street, rather than a noble American president and his hand-picked team of expert advisers. Specifically, it's seen through the eyes of a squad of US marines. When a battalion of extraterrestrials brings some shock and awe to the Californian coast, Aaron Eckhart and his men get caught in a firefight, a situation which allows the director to stage the frenetic, in-your-face combat scenes which have become de rigueur in contemporary war films. I'm not a great fan of this stressful style, with its wobbly camerawork and split-second editing, but if you enjoy noisy footage of uniformed men shouting at each other while obscured by dust and smoke, then Battle: Los Angeles has plenty.

Set against that, however, is the video-game plotting, the cardboard characters, the self-parodying dialogue, and a flag-waving, gung-ho finale which turns the film into a recruitment ad for the marine corps. The question is, why make the combat seem so realistic when everything else is quite the opposite?

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber tries not to get his hopes up before seeing Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Also Showing: 13/03/2011

The Resident (91 mins, 15)

A doctor (Hilary Swank) rents an apartment in an otherwise empty New York building, but comes to suspect that she's being spied on. Of course, she'd move out straightaway if she was really worried, so the danger level is kept boringly low until the inevitable moment when the lurking voyeur attacks her. It's like 10 minutes of Psycho dragged out to feature length.

Hall Pass (105 mins, 15)

The Farrelly brothers may be the godfathers of coarse-yet-cuddly male-bonding comedy, but if you saw Hall Pass and you hadn't heard of them, you'd put them down as feeble Judd Apatow imitators. The scenes in The 40-Year-Old Virgin of a middle-aged bumbler trying and failing to chat up women are echoed, much less funnily, here. In the brothers' worst film so far, Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis (surely not the directors' first choice) play friends who are permitted by their wives to be as unfaithful and irresponsible as they want for a week. If the men had been given a weekend instead, Hall Pass might have had some momentum, but as it is all seven days plod by with no jokes, no plot, and no reason why the "hall passes" would have been granted.

Legacy: Black Ops (95 mins, 15)

This self-funded chamber piece stars Idris Elba as a government assassin who's losing his marbles in a dingy Brooklyn apartment. Elba's intense performance aside, it's a middling one-act fringe play.

Terry (82 mins, 18)

Uneventful, zero-budget faux-documentary about a skinhead's life of petty crime. And I do mean "petty".

Film Choice

This year's Bird's Eye View festival of women's filmmakers culminates on Thursday with Tiny Furniture, an acclaimed comedy from writer-director-star Lena Dunham (see birds-eye-view.co.uk for details). Our own Joanna Hogg's island-set Archipelago delivers on the promise of her debut Unrelated.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil