Walk The Line (12A)<br></br> The Ice Harvest (15)<br></br> North Country (15)<br></br> Derailed (15)<br></br>

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The Independent Culture

Most music biopics play the same song. Verse one is childhood hardship, trauma and/or parental discouragement; verse two is the moment when the future star writes their best-known hit; verse three is their stardom, as represented by screaming fans, famous friends, and a house the size of the moon; and the remaining verses cover the drugs, the downfall and the redemption. It's a song that Walk The Line plays note for note, so if you saw Ray last year, you'll be humming the tune on your way into the cinema.

Still, because the song is playing in the key of Johnny Cash, it's probably worth hearing again, principally because Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) was in Memphis when rock'n'roll was born. Although he was later pigeonholed as a country singer, such categories hadn't solidified when the Man in Black strode into Sam Phillips's office in 1955, and he was soon sharing cars and stages all across America with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins. The film is at its rollicking best when it's marvelling at the tumult, the camaraderie, and the punishing schedules of these legendary package tours. Each one deserves a movie of its own.

Walk The Line also gives the new song an old sound by focusing on the tremendous love between Cash and June Carter, played with even more Southern peppiness than usual by Reese Witherspoon. When she first meets Cash, they're both married to other people, and he has a sackload of addictions and demons on his shoulders, so the decade he spends trying to win her over lends the film its time frame and its coherence, and stops it becoming a compilation album of Johnny Cash's Greatest Anecdotes. It helps that the two Oscar-nominated leads have such fizzing chemistry. With his wolfish sneer, Phoenix gets you thinking that that's how Cash should have looked, even if he didn't.

The Ice Harvest (15)

'Tis the night before Christmas, and John Cusack has just stolen $2m from the mob boss who employs him as a lawyer. For reasons that don't bear too much scrutiny (basically, the roads are slippy), he has to hang around for a few hours before leaving town - and that's exactly what he does. He hangs around, stopping off at strip clubs, visiting his in-laws, and chauffeuring his majestically drunk friend, Oliver Platt. It's diverting in fits and starts, but how much urgency can a comedy-thriller have when its anti-hero is just killing time?

North Country (15)

North Country is a melodrama based on the precedent-setting sexual harassment suit that a group of women brought against an iron-mining company in Northern Minnesota - although that rough outline is just about all the real case and the fictionalised one have in common. It's set in 1989. Charlize Theron stars as a single mother who gets a job in the mine where her father works. Her male colleagues show their hospitality by snarling insults at her and smearing faeces on the women's locker room wall, but her female colleagues are too scared of unemployment to corroborate her complaints.

Theron goes through the emotional wringer, earning her a second Oscar nomination, but any awards that North Country receives should go to Chris Menges, the cinematographer, who has an eye for the alien strangeness of the mine and its machines. Unfortunately, the screenplay isn't quite as artistic as he is. There's nothing stimulating or enlightening about the plot, assuming you aren't strongly in favour of sexual harassment, and it was tacky of the film-makers to embellish the facts of the case with rape and terminal illness.

Derailed (15)

Derailed could just as easily be called Deadly Indiscretion or Perilous Seduction, in that it's a direct descendent of those yuppie-nightmare thrillers which Michael Douglas used to star in before he had a facelift. Clive Owen puts on an American accent to play the yuppie in question, a Chicago advertising executive whose eyes meet those of Jennifer Aniston (pictured) across a crowded commuter train. A few lunches and a few more drinks later, Owen and Aniston repair to a cheap hotel room, where they suffer a bad case of coitus interruptus. A vicious French thug, Vincent Cassell, bursts in and robs them both. And that's just for starters. Cassell surmises that his victims aren't married, so the next day he calls Owen and demands $20,000 to keep his mouth shut.

Derailed would be passable as a direct-to-video product, but Michael Douglas would never have behaved as despicably or as pathetically as Owen's character does. And anyone who hasn't caught sight of the Big Twist an hour before it arrives should book an appointment at the optician's.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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