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The Independent Culture
Love Is the Devil (18)

John Maybury, previously best known for his music videos and as a Derek Jarman collaborator, makes a startling feature debut with this audacious Francis Bacon biopic, easily one of last year's best films. The subtitle, "Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon", is instructive: the film is a succession of vivid, rigorously stylised tableaux, reminiscent of Bacon's own paintings. Anchored by Derek Jacobi's stunning performance as the artist, the film focuses on Bacon's tortured, sado-masochistic relationship with George Dyer (Daniel Craig), which began when Dyer, a petty criminal, was trying to burgle Bacon's studio in 1964. It ended with the younger man's suicide in a Paris hotel seven years later. Denied the use of original artwork by Bacon's estate, Maybury more than compensates by giving his movie a distinctive, burnished colour scheme and a claustrophobic feel; he distorts and refracts images and makes use of multiple reflections. It's one of the most ambitious and intelligent British films in recent memory, a rare portrait of an artist that gains access to his life through a profound understanding of his art.

Kiss the Girls (18). This appallingly threadbare film recycles Seven and The Silence of the Lambs in a wrong-headed stab at reviving serial-killer chic. Alex (Morgan Freeman), a forensic psychologist, and Kate (Ashley Judd), a kick-boxing medical intern, team up in pursuit of a "serial collector", Casanova. He abducts beautiful, talented young women and stores them in a harem/cellar deep in the North Carolina woods, and kills them when they break his rules. Director Gary Fleder delivers shocks on cue, but he needn't have bothered; it's the stench of exploitation that lingers, overpowering everything.

The Horse Whisperer (15) Robert Redford directs himself in this mildly narcissistic weepie; he plays Tom, a Montana rancher/ horse healer who becomes involved with a hotshot New York magazine editor (Kristin Scott Thomas) when he treats her daughter's traumatised horse. There are a few vaguely touching moments and some pretty landscapes, but not enough to justify the numbing two-and-a-half-hour running time.