The Damned United, Tom Hooper, 97 mins, 15
Knowing, Alex Proyas, 121 mins, 15
Martyrs, Pascal Laugier, 95 mins, 18

Michael Sheen's latest reincarnation as Brian Clough is strong on Seventies nostalgia but doesn't reveal much about the man

In a few short years, Peter Morgan and Michael Sheen have become the most bankable British screenwriter-star partnership since Hugh Grant stammered through Richard Curtis's scripts in the 1990s. Morgan and Sheen have made films about Tony Blair (The Deal and The Queen) and David Frost (Frost/Nixon), and now, in The Damned United, they tackle Brian Clough, thereby raising the question of whether it's possible for M&S to find a real-life subject who radiates more complacency than the three they've covered already. Maybe they should leave it a while before they try to answer that question, though, because The Damned United, as fun as it is, carries a distinct whiff of diminishing returns.

It begins in 1974, as Clough gets one of the top jobs in English football, manager of Leeds United. Prior to that, he presided over Derby, lifting the club to new heights with the aid of his right-hand man, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), and with his belief that the beautiful game "must be played beautifully". Meanwhile, his arch enemy, Don Revie (Colm Meaney), was managing a Leeds squad that played more brutally than beautifully. So when the heroically tactless Clough takes over from Revie, he starts by insulting the players, belittling their past achievements, and threatening dire consequences for anyone who so much as mentions his predecessor's name.

The Damned United is essentially an affectionate, tongue-in-cheek homage to the 1970s game, when footballers were permed semi-professionals who had an orange and a cigarette at half time, and who were never called upon to advertise Pepsi. ("A salary of £300 a week," squawks Derby's manager (Jim Broadbent. "You can't pay a footballer that!") Much brighter and warmer than David Peace's source novel – perhaps they should have renamed it The Darned United – it's an upbeat alternative to the humourless Hollywood model of an inspirational sports biopic, and I'm particularly well qualified to state that you can enjoy it even if you have no prior knowledge of Clough or, indeed, football.

The problem is, I still don't have that much knowledge of Clough. Morgan's script leaves us in no doubt as to his flaws. "This mad ambition," cries Spall, helpfully, "it takes over and destroys everything that's good in your life!" But by flashing back and forth between his years at Derby and his weeks at Leeds, it reduces both stints to a handful of comic snapshots. Just as Frost/Nixon failed to pinpoint why Frost was able to extract a confession from Nixon when no one else could, The Damned United doesn't establish why Clough was so alchemical at Derby, or why Leeds fared so badly as soon as he came on board. Shouldn't a biopic of a unique football manager leave us with some understanding of what was unique about him?

Knowing may be the first film in which the bug-eyed craziness of Nicolas Cage's central performance is matched by every aspect of the production. He plays his usual shouty, over-caffeinated loon, in this instance a widowed astrophysics lecturer. When his son's school celebrates its 50th anniversary by opening a time capsule from 1959, Cage takes home one of the artefacts, a handwritten page of numbers that appears to predict the date and death toll of every major catastrophe of the intervening decades, plus a couple that are still to come.

It could be the premise of a Twilight Zone episode, but Knowing is more like an M Night Shyamalan film on steroids. About half an hour in, a jumbo jet crashes 100 yards from where Cage is standing, and the tone gets less restrained from there on, growing bigger and more bombastic until the film mutates into a hysterical, apocalyptic disaster movie. It's actually quite invigorating to watch the spectacle and pretension skyrocketing to such stratospheric heights. It's just a shame that, beneath the sound and fury, it's all such nonsense.

Be warned: you shouldn't dream of seeing Martyrs unless you've already made it through Funny Games, Audition and Irréversible, and you're ready for something yet more gruelling. Twisting between home invasion thriller, ghost story and torture porn ordeal, this French film is the work of a clever director who keeps taking the story to unexpected places. But I don't know why anyone would choose to endure it. I've never before seen so much extreme gore and violence depicted with such unblinking nonchalance.

Also showing: 29/03/2009

Traitor (114 mins, 1A)

Don Cheadle stars as an Islamist bomb-maker and Guy Pearce as the FBI agent on his trail, in the best of the recent "war on terror" thrillers.

Afghan Star (83 mins)

Documentary about Afghanistan's answer to The X Factor. Considering that it's given many young Afghans their first taste of democracy, it's more radical than anything Simon Cowell ever imagined. Recommended.

Tyson (90 mins, 15)

Sympathetic account of Mike Tyson's rise and fall, cutting between new interviews with a remarkably articulate Tyson and archive footage of Kid Dynamite at his unstoppable peak.

Genova (94 mins, 15)

Michael Winterbottom's meandering drama stars Colin Firth as an academic who moves with his two daughters to Italy in an effort to get over the death of his wife (Hope Davis).

The Life Before Her Eyes (90 mins, 15)

Uma Thurman thinks back to her teenage self (Evan Rachel Wood) in this airy-fairy drama.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
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
Latest stories from i100
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 children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on