Vows for some very cinematic friendships

Love, Honour and Obey (18) | Dominic Anciano, Ray Burdis | 98 mins | Trailer Hurly Burly (18) | Anthony Drazan | 117 mins Brother (15) | Alexei Balabanov | 95 mins
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Dominic Anciano and Ray Burdis's Love, Honour and Obey casts a group of actors who are friends in real life - Ray Winstone, Kathy Burke, Sadie Frost, Jude Law, Sean Pertwee, and Jonny Lee Miller. It is all about the wives and doings of a gang of North London criminals headed by Winstone. Actually, Ray - each character, as in the directors' previous film, Final Cut, is called by the real-life actor's name. (This, surely, is a defensive gesture by the participants designed to allow them to disown the film, if necessary, as "just a bit of fun." And because it's a confusing and self-referential gesture it can also, hopefully, be seen as "arty". Plus there's the happy side effect of self-mythologisation. Either way, it makes no artistic sense whatsoever.) So, Ray's right-hand man is Jude, whose best-friend is Jonny, who is a nutter who goes and spoils everything. There always has to be a nutter in films like this, because only with a nutter can you have a story about violence that lets professional criminals off the hook (Reservoir Dogs would have been minus a memorable narrative without the lunatic Mr Blue.) So, it becomes the Nutter versus the Businessmen.

Ray's gang runs into trouble with Sean Pertwee's South Londoners, and the predominately middle-class cast get to show that they can do cockney slang and look casual at the same time. Ray Winstone is an important piece of casting because as someone genuinely frightening (oh, but he's a peach, Antonia, a kitten) and star of so many iconically grim films, he offers the necessary authenticity to the rest of the cast who are pretty much all Primrose Hill pin-up boys.

Without Ray, people like Ray might snigger at Sadie and Jude. Ray gives them cred - and cred is what Love, Honour and Obey is all about. Cred, and (secretly) class. Of course, this kind of film (see Rancid Aluminium, You're Dead, Ordinary Decent Criminal) rarely feels more than just a Bugsy Malone fantasy. Where, you wonder, are the splurge guns? Oh, wheel on the splurge guns, please. As a self-congratulatory exercise, Love Honour and Obey is perhaps without equal. A large part of the action is devoted to the cast singing karaoke (a soundtrack has even been released) whilst enjoying some kind of private joke. We are invited to join-in, but must pay (literally). So, Jonny sings with his wounded-to-bits mouth, Jude grips the mike and winks like some composite Hollywood wet-dream, Pertwee is out-acted by his specs, Frost jiggles like a long-abandoned madame, and Winstone averts his eyes as though he knows he is fast coming to represent nothing - the quintessential hollow man. It's kind of embarrassing, this voguish British actor thing. You can't open the Evening Standard magazine without some photo of Joseph Fiennes forcing his arm protectively around the shoulder of Rachel Weisz, or Anna Friel looking racy and unloved outside The Ivy. Or all of them gathered around Patrick Marber, smoking and smoking. It suggests such tremendous envy for British artists like Tracy Emin who are still, incredibly, annexing whatever real creative glamour is currently available. How? Through autobiography, through situating the artist's life at the centre of his work - something unavailable to an actor. No matter how many guns are deployed on screen, in cred terms, the young, self-destructive visual arts rule over British film. The only person likely to turn things around is Shane Meadows. And he, interestingly, is never photographed out with Jude. Or Ray. Or Vinnie.

Hurly Burly has been adapted by David Rabe from his off-Broadway play. It takes us into the LA home of film producer Eddie (Sean Penn) who is always berserk (booze, cocaine, insomnia) and lives with Mickey (Kevin Spacey, plus a steel rinse.) The pair have half-friendships and vile sexual relationships, and Meg Ryan wanders in for about ten minutes with yet another - forgive me for even noticing, let alone remarking - fantastic hairdo. Hurly Burly is full of that armpit-torchingly embarrassing, heightened-realism version of Broadway dialogue that rarely survives through to film (which is why David Mamet, who does, is such a great cinematic property.) All the time, you hear the wooden clunk of a theatre which still thinks that Eugene O'Neill is a great writer of natural dialogue. So Eddie rants and rants in an undergraduate way, saying what's on his mind, and after about eight pages of stories and parables and freewheeling codas and not getting the point even after flagging something up as the point you feel like killing yourself, too.

In the end, under great personal stress, somebody (probably Eddie because he has a moustache which is drama-speak for all that is corrupt, but central) blurts out The Theme of the play. I forget what it is. On stage, there was a lovely whiff of lonely Hollywood, of California as a place across which people drive but never merge. This, oddly, is absent on screen, despite the odd scene in a car, or on a freeway. Brother is the 1997 cult Russian film by Alexei Balabanov about a young, handsome ex-soldier who becomes a hit-man. Set in St Petersburg and dizzy with an unhappy mood, the film is gripping. It wears Russia's recent history like a shroud.

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