LaBute begins his fable in the departure lounge of a nameless American airport. Cleft-chinned charmer Chad (a Machiavellian Aaron Eckhart) and his plain-James colleague Howard (a guileless Matt Molloy) are discussing the injustices they've suffered at the hands of their girlfriends. Chad suggests a way to restore their wounded self-esteem: they'll find a vulnerable woman, "young thing, wallflower type, or disfigured in some way," romance her until she's hooked, and then humiliate her. "Trust me," coos Chad. "She will be reaching for her sleeping pills within a week, and we'll laugh about this 'til we're very old men."
By the end of the first week, they've selected their victim: she is Christine (a superb Stacy Edwards), a temp secretary who is beautiful, shy, lonely and deaf. And if that sounds like uncomfortable viewing, it is.LaBute anatomises its discomforts in withering detail. Most disturbing is a scene in which, on a date in a tacky restaurant, Howard hears Christine speak for the first time. Her speech has the uncertain quality of someone who hasn't heard her own voice for 20 years, and Molloy plays Howard's small-minded embarrassment to excruciating perfection.
The film's premise is as powerful in its own way as the wager in Cymbeline, or the murder pact in Strangers on a Train. This gentleman's agreement may be grotesque, but the men making it are as charming and plausible as your mates - or yourself, for that matter. I felt exposed. I squirmed. And LaBute does all he can to make his theme as universal as possible: the date is difficult to place; the locations are unidentifiable; scenes are played out in anonymous offices, eateries and washrooms; we're told nothing specific about the work in which Chad, Christine and Howard are engaged. The drama is pared down to stark essentials, and LaBute's camera records the action in long, unflashy takes. Some of these are too long and too unflashy, and - despite the furious inevitability of the plot - there are moments when the film feels struck by inertia. But this is an intelligent, perceptive work, as finely attuned to the 1990s zeitgeist as Fatal Attraction was to that of the 1980s. You won't forget it in a hurry. It may even keep you awake at night.
Stella Does Tricks (18) features the stellar Kelly Macdonald (Dianne from Trainspotting) as a teenage prostitute, keeping her integrity despite the efforts of her pimp, Mr Peters (James Bolam), her boyfriend Eddie (Hans Matheson, a bargain-bucket Kurt Cobain) and her abusive father (a creepily reasonable Ewan Stewart). Though Stella's humanity distinguishes her from the men in her life, she's not above exacting her revenge upon them - whether through police arrest, genital arson, or a Fisherman's Friend up the anus. But there's a disabling tension in the film between the unselfconsciousness of Macdonald's performance and the Dickensian tone that director Coky Giedroyc and her screenwriter, the author AL Kennedy, want to evoke. The film is full of nods to novels: Stella's use of flowers to brighten up Eddie's squalid room echoes scenes from Little Dorrit, her monstrous Auntie Aileen is a modernised Mrs Joe from Great Expectations, and her troubled relationship with her father links her to Lizzie Hexam in Our Mutual Friend. She even drinks neat gin, every Victorian prostitute's little helper. Though Giedroyc and Kennedy have some success in reinventing ideas about fallen women, their delight in fantastic flourishes and wrought rhetoric jars with Macdonald's commitment to effortlessly naturalistic acting. This does particular disservice to James Bolam, whose villainous pimp is saddled with moustache-curling lines like "Very glamorous, very Victorian."
A burst of tabloid hot air has greeted the release of Resurrection Man (18), Marc Evans's thriller about the Shankill Butchers, the Seventies Ulster Loyalist death-squad. I'll do my best to set you straight. It is a deplorable film. But it is not an expression of pro-Republican sentiment among British film-makers. (In fact, the father of its producer, Andrew Eaton, was killed by the IRA.) It does not validate IRA terrorism by portraying its opponents as sociopathic aggressors. To some extent, an opposite analysis would hold more truth, since Stuart Townsend brings enough depraved cover-boy glamour to the role of gang-leader Victor Kelly to flatter the ego of any small-town knife-fancier. Political analysis is ostentatiously absent. The vacuum is filled by a sub-Tarantino campness, and no jokily perverse detail is spared in violent sequences that border on the pornographic: an old man is murdered as the soundtrack blares "Tiger Feet"; a sly journalist (James Nesbitt) is forced to kiss a mutilated corpse; Mclure, Kelly's mentor (Sean McGinley), snorts coke, prowls around in an SS cap and flirts with his pet serial killer while "Jerusalem" plays on the gramophone. What makes Resurrection Man so repellent is that it exploits a conflict still claiming lives daily in order to produce a kitsch, sadistic gangster flick fit only for maladjusted schoolboys. Hard to defend at the best of times; with the death toll rising in Northern Ireland, it's impossible.
Traveller (18), Jack Green's first feature, is more ambitious than the last dozen or so small-time-heist-gone-wrong movies. There's an agreeable novelty about its background: Bokky, the con-artist hero (Bill Paxton), is a member of a North Carolina gypsy clan who - like a cross between the Amish and the Dukes of Hazzard - combine community values with a knack for swindling slack-jawed rednecks. But Green combines paucity of emotional detail with bursts of karaoke-video crassness. He's quite happy to show us Bokky angsting over the rainswept grave of his wife and child, but doesn't bother to tell us how they died.
As a cinematographer, Green is a long-time collaborator of Clint Eastwood, and Traveller plainly harks back to Seventies capers like Every Which Way But Loose - just to labour the point, he has Paxton watch a scene from the film on a bar-room TV. Mark Wahlberg plays Pat, Paxton's protege, a greenhorn role which was clearly a dry run for his meatier part in Boogie Nights. But Green lights him so unflatteringly, he looks like a sulky orang-utan cheated out of a bag of peanuts: either cack-handedness, or another allusion to Every Which Way But Loose.
Yavus Turgul's full-blooded melodrama The Bandit (15) broke all box-office records in Istanbul, and 2.5 million Turkish people can't be wrong. Imagine Alf Garnett going to a fancy-dress party as Kemal Ataturk and you'll have a fairly accurate picture of Baran, its hero (Sener Sen), an ex-con who is trying to readjust after 35 years in jail. There's a crankiness about the editing and soundtrack that recalls Bollywood, but Turgul is keen to underpin his pop epic with serious themes. His Istanbul is run by gangsters who live by a feudal system less chivalrous than Baran's olde-worlde criminality - though the extraordinary ease with which this OAP vigilante picks off his victims suggests that brigandage ain't what it used to be.
Finally, Ira Sachs's The Delta (no cert) is an honest, unflashy film in equal debt to Richard Linklater and Mark Twain. Two Memphis teenagers take a clandestine boat-trip down the Mississippi, during which the tongue- tied inarticulacy of white, middle-class Lincoln (Shayne Gray) comes into romantic collision with the gauche garrulousness of Minh (Thang Chan), a working-class immigrant of African-American and Vietnamese parentage. With murky photography and a cast of non-actors, Sachs goes for edgy realism. He renders Lincoln's sexual encounters before he meets Minh in such tense, nasty and embarrassing detail that they're almost impossible to watch. Unfortunately, he employs the same techniques for every scene, whether it's a family dinner, a teeny kiss, or a violent garrotting. Even so, it's the closest thing you'll get this week to a date movie.
Cinema details: Going Out, page 10.Reuse content