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The Independent Culture
My Name Is Joe (18)

In a vigorous and subtly intelligent performance, Peter Mullan plays Joe, a thirtysomething Glaswegian who coaches a football team, and finds himself in a constant struggle to leave behind a violent, alcoholic past. A tentative, tender - and wonderfully observed - romance with Sarah, a health service worker (Louise Goodall, also excellent), is a step in the right direction. But in attempting to save a kid on his team from a local mobster, Joe finds himself reacting the only way he knows. Ken Loach's latest film might, at first glance, appear rather less ambitious than his previous two efforts: the expansive Spanish civil war saga Land and Freedom, and Carla's Song, an awkward attempt to get to grips with the political situation in Eighties Nicaragua from an outsider's perspective. But My Name Is Joe, which won Mullan a Best Actor prize at Cannes last year, in fact represents the director at his best: clear-eyed, urgent, and uncompromising.

Ronin (15)

John Frankenheimer's espionage thriller uses Cold War nostalgia as an excuse for some deftly orchestrated fender-benders. Instead of grafting an elaborate, us-versus-them premise upon the European political landscape (like the preposterous Mission: Impossible), the film-makers simply boil the plot down to stock Bond-movie behaviour and a succession of double and triple crossing. The central mission - to retrieve a briefcase - is far less consequential or interesting than the cosmopolitan dirty half- dozen who assemble to pull it off. They include a stoical Frenchman (Jean Reno), a hard-nosed Irish lass (Natascha McElhone) and a wisecracking American, played by Robert De Niro, and hence ringleader by default. It doesn't matter what exactly they're supposed to do, who hired them, and why. All that counts is that they're soon racing along scenic, narrow European streets at impossibly high speeds, and crashing into, or shooting at, the bad guys, innocent bystanders, and each other. Ronin may simply be a procession of set-pieces disguised as a movie, but at least those set-pieces are all snappily staged, however daunting the logistics.