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The Independent Culture
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (15)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore

Steven Spielberg's Second World War drama focuses on a mission with more than a hint of public relations about it. Three brothers are killed in action, and their mother is about to receive the triple-dose of bad news in one go; the fourth and youngest, James Ryan, is still in combat. Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is dispatched with his squad to seek out the young Private behind enemy lines and return him home to safety. It is unlikely that many viewers will emerge from the picture warmed by emotional catharsis, though there is plenty of it in evidence. It is the harsh, devastating battle sequences which are branded on the memory, and which momentarily suggest that the film will be something more adventurous and resonant than your average war movie. It isn't. But the promise alone is, in itself, strangely compelling.

The real achievement of Saving Private Ryan is that Spielberg has managed to create anything remotely worthwhile out of Robert Rodat's dog's dinner of a screenplay. Rodat throws together so many cliches and stereotypes that at times it seems that most of Spielberg's energy is expended in distracting us from the tawdriness of the material. This he does most effectively in the combat scenes which bookend the movie, during which subjective sound and photography are manipulated to create a disturbing sense of chaos. Injuries are explicit, but not lingered over; death is, for the most part, sudden and unglamorous. It was an error to once again use John Williams as composer, but for most of these lapses of judgement there are compensations, most often found in the cast. As with Spielberg, the likes of Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Sizemore and especially Tom Hanks seem engaged in a war with the script; it is to their credit that they emerge largely unscathed.

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BABYMOTHER (15)

Director: Julian Henriques

Starring: Anjela Lauren Smith, Wil Johnson, Caroline Chikezie An endearing reggae musical which takes an old idea and douses it in gaudy colours - quite literally, in fact, given that it sometimes looks as though the print has been spattered with Day-Glo paint. Anita (Anjela Lauren Smith) is a "babymother" - a woman saddled with children at a young age. She lives in north London and longs to be a reggae star, but her dreams are confounded not only by her responsibility to her son and daughter, but by their calculating father, who feels that his own imminent stardom would be jeopardised by Anita's success. The final musical showdown between the pair is clumsily contrived, but for the most part, this is a fresh and engaging delight.

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LA VIE DE JESUS (NC)

Director: Bruno Dumont

Starring: David Douche, Marjorie Cottreel, Genevieve Cottreel, Kader Chaatouf

Bruno Dumont's brilliant debut feature suggests Los Olivados on downers. In a desolate, lifeless town in northern France, a group of twentysomething friends rattle around on their motorbikes, occasionally venting racist anger against some local Arabs. The film's main focus is Freddy (David Douche), an epileptic boy whose gentle, but occasionally fraught, relationship with his girlfriend provides the picture with the closest thing it has to dramatic momentum. The performances by a cast of non-professionals are impressively raw, but it's Dumont's attentive, compassionate approach which makes the film special.

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COUSIN BETTE (15)

Director: Des McAnuff

Starring: Jessica Lange, Elisabeth Shue, Bob Hoskins, Hugh Laurie

Balzac's novel about romance and deception in 19th-century France is the basis for this shallow but breezy comedy. Jessica Lange plays Bette, who is appointed housekeeper to the family of her late cousin. In the pursuit of love in her own life, she inadvertently weaves a web of betrayal around everyone she knows - her cousin's daughter, Hortense (Kelly McDonald), her actress friend Jenny Cadine (Elisabeth Shue), and most of all Wenceslas (Aden Young), a sculptor to whom Bette has deigned to play benefactor. Although the director Des McAnuff can't keep his film from wandering, there are enough precious comic moments to make it a pleasing diversion.

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Ryan Gilbey

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