The Disappearance of Alice Creed, J Blakeson, 100 mins (18)
Revanche, Götz Spielmann, 121 mins (15)
The Milk of Sorrow, Claudia Llosa, 95 mins (12A)

A clever vanishing act, a twisty film noir, and a touching, funny Peruvian fable

One of cinema's immutable laws dictates that if a would-be criminal tells his accomplice that their plan can't possibly go wrong, that's the cue for the gods to roll up their sleeves and chuckle: "Wanna bet?"

It's a law that's obeyed by two films this week, although one of them, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, is clever enough to fool us that the crooks might actually have a fighting chance of success. The film begins with a dialogue-free montage which shows two men, Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston, making methodical preparations for a kidnapping. Like the handymen on a perverse episode of Changing Rooms, they steal a van, shop for tools, and fit a room with padlocks and sound-proofing, all with no fuss and no mistakes. Even when they snatch their attractive victim, Gemma Arterton, there's none of the customary banter, lechery, or violence. It's an economical, snappily edited opening which announces that these guys know what they're doing. And, by extension, the first-time writer-director, J Blakeson, knows what he's doing, too.

The rest of the film can't keep up the same breathless pace, but it's still a craftily engineered piece of work. The entire production has a cast of three – no police, no news reporters, no bystanders – and most of it is set in a one-bedroom flat, all without seeming contrived or stagey. If anything, Blakeson pares down the action and dialogue a fraction too far. There's only so much that can happen in such a confined space, and the film reveals so little about the characters that we don't ally ourselves with any of them.

In the end, The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a calling card: you're more likely to admire its thrifty resourcefulness than to be absorbed in its story. But it's certainly impressive enough to make you wonder what Blakeson could conjure up with a cast of, say, four or five.

This week's other criminals with an absolutely fool-proof plan can be found in Revanche. One of them, Johannes Krisch, is a burly Robert Carlyle-lookalike who works as a dogsbody in a Viennese brothel. The other is his Ukrainian girlfriend, Irina Potapenko, who works there as a prostitute. Understandably, Krisch isn't too happy with their respective careers, so he decides to clear their debts by robbing a bank in the village near his grandfather's tumbledown farm.

Meanwhile, we're also introduced to an insecure rookie policeman and his wife (Andreas Lust and Ursula Strauss) who have just decorated their dream home across the woods from the same village. Uh-oh.

I hope it's not giving away too much to report that the bank robbery doesn't go smoothly. If I go any further into the plot, I definitely will give too much away, but the characters' lives intertwine in a number of ways, some expected and some not. The writer-director, Götz Spielmann, doesn't resort to any manipulative thriller gimmicks – apart, arguably, from some repeated shots of a very worrying circular saw – and instead he lets Revanche unfold as a thoughtful drama which examines the aspirations and regrets of a small knot of people, some of whom may be bearing guns and grudges. It takes its time, but it gradually accrues all the ironies, twists and tension of a classic film noir. Fans of Fargo and A Simple Plan should see it now before it's remade in Hollywood. You can't go wrong.

Revanche was nominated for 2009's Best Film in a Foreign Language Oscar. One of this year's nominees in that category was The Milk of Sorrow, a sparkling Peruvian film which trips lightly between comedy and drama, magic-realist fable and social-realist document. At its heart is a withdrawn young woman (Magaly Solier) traumatised by the horrific tales her mother has told her, or rather sung her in improvised folk ballads, about the atrocities committed during the Shining Path uprising. It's not until the old woman's death that her daughter ventures beyond her mountaintop village to get a job as a concert pianist's maid in Lima. Not many films are this delicate and touching, while still leaving room for jokes about icing a message on a cake for someone who can't read.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber sees the return of the gorgeous Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the terrifying Jennifer Lopez in The Back-Up Plan

Also Showing: 02/05/2010

The Last Song (107 mins, PG)

Miley Cyrus gets rebellious – that is, she wears a hoodie – in the latest tear-jerking romance to be adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel. It's almost indistinguishable from Sparks' Dear John, which came out a fortnight ago, right down to the southern colonial mansions, the terminal cancer and the blond hunk who's first seen flashing his pecs on a beach. Stay away if you're male and/or older than 15.

Gentlemen Broncos (89 mins, 12A)

Jared Hess, director of Napoleon Dynamite, returns with this wilfully silly comedy about a home-schooled teenager (Michael Angarano) who has his sci-fi novel plagiarised by the writer he idolises. Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement is so funny as the blow-dried author that I came out wishing that he'd based a one-man show on the character instead.

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24 City (107 mins)

Eight Chinese men and women recount their poignant life stories in a series of monologues – some scripted, some genuine interviews – as the munitions factory that links them all is dismantled.

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