Directed by Jean Jacques Annaud
Brad Pitt is badly miscast as the Austrian climber Heinrich Harrer, whose ambition to conquer the Himalayas leads him first to imprisonment in a PoW camp, arrested by British soldiers for being in the wrong place (India) at the wrong time (WW2), and then on to spiritual enlightenment as the trusted friend of the young Dalai Lama. Pitt admirably withholds any attempt to make Heinrich likeable, permitting us an endearing flash of vulnerability only at the last possible moment, when he tries to woo a woman with an impromptu display of ice-skating that leaves him looking like a twit.
Pitt does do a lovely impersonation of somebody in a war movie spoof, but the director Jean Jacques Annaud strives so hard for an epic atmosphere that he loses the intimacy which would have at least made the relationship between man and boy marginally touching. RG
Lawn Dogs (15)
Directed by John Duigan
Trent (Sam Rockwell) spends his days mowing lawns in the wealthy suburbs of Kentucky, and being mocked by the residents for his troubles. But Devon (Mischa Barton), a smart 10-year-old recognises in Trent a kindred spirit and strikes up a friendship with him, which you know from the start is just begging to be misconstrued. The writer Naomi Wallace comes worryingly close to turning Trent into a Messiah figure, but the symbolic excesses of her screenplay are compensated for by sweetly understated performances from the leads. Also deserving of praise is the director of photography Eliot Davis, whose haunted images make suburbia look like a barren underwater landscape, where everything happens in slow motion. RG
Directed by Todd Verow
The characters in Dennis Cooper's stories always talk like bad actors, so it was only to be expected that any adaptation of his work would risk seeming stilted. But it's not the lobotomised dialogue that ruins this film version of Cooper's finest novel about a man who believes he can only truly know someone by murdering them, rather it's the way that Todd Verow has transformed a provocative work into soap opera. The Pixel vision scenes are suitably unnerving, but Frisk could only have worked as a film if it were 10 times more adventurous, defiant and experimental. RG
Directed by Gillies MacKinnon
The camera floats over no man's land, gazing down at the dead and wounded lying in the mud. Gillies MacKinnon needs just this one, magnificent opening shot to evoke the horrors of the Western Front before transporting us to Craiglockart, the Scottish psychiatric hospital where Dr William Rivers coaxes shellshocked officers back to sanity so that they can be sent back to the insanity of the war. His latest patient is the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who has been sent to Craiglockart to avoid the embarrassment of a court martial after publicly denouncing the conduct of the war. Their encounter is vividly brought to life here by Jonathan Pryce (above), velvet-voiced and unusually gentle as Rivers, and the brittle, sardonic James Wilby.
These strong central performances are matched, if not bettered, by Trainspotting's Jonny Lee Miller as Billy Prior, the mute working-class officer whose eyes burn with a rage the rest of the film never quite matches. Prior is the linchpin of Pat Barker's trilogy of novels which Regeneration opened. But Regeneration the film never makes up its mind if it's Prior's story or Sassoon's. Their stories alternate, in fits and starts, and both end abruptly, so we're left wanting to know more..
However, the film has compelling characters, an abiding atmosphere of melancholy and some unforgettable battlefield tableaux. It's only that it remains an adaptation - rather than a film that comes together in its own right. JW
Excess Baggage (12)
Directed by Marco Brambilla
Alicia Silverstone casts herself here as an heiress who fakes her own kidnap in a bid for the love or just the attention of her stern tycoon father (Jack Thompson). But, in a chain of events even more contrived than that of the not dissimilar A Life Less Ordinary, she ends up getting kidnapped for real by a car thief (Benicio Del Toro). Of course, they fall in love.
Having already played Batgirl, Silverstone the star is keen to be seen as an exponent of girl power, picking fights and defiantly drinking whisky, even though she's under age. But in so doing she neglects to make her character even remotely sympathetic: she's never anything more than a poor, spoilt little rich girl, despite nice hair and - in the great tradition of that godmother of actress-producers, Barbra Streisand - a scene in which she bullies Del Toro into saying how much he likes her tummy and her laugh.
Silverstone the producer does better, hiring solid talent including Christopher Walken as guest villain; jazz maverick John Lurie as composer; and British sitcom veterans Dick Clement and Ian La Frenals as rewrite men. Her one poor choice, though, was the most crucial: director Marco Brambilla, who managed to make Stallone hip in the flashy, ironic Demolition Man, but here seems plain flatfooted. JW
Inventing the Abbotts (15)
Directed by Pat O'Connor
"The end of my childhood and innocence began in 1957." So begins the voiceover, and instantly you know you're in for another of those coming- of-age dramas set in a small Midwest town in the 1950s. Blue jeans, white T-shirts, cool cars, diners, boys with quiffs, and a dark family secret are all duly delivered. The surprise is that, in the hands of Irish director Pat O'Connor, it's all so unaccountably solemn.
As the younger of two brothers who compete in lusting after local beauties the Abbotts, Joaquin Phoenix is described as looking like somebody just ran over his dog. Somehow it sums up the maudlin feel of the film as a whole. The brother of the late River, Phoenix has a lugubrious, unsettling presence, but instead of being allowed to work out for ourselves what's going on behind those enigmatic eyes, we're lumbered with a banal voiceover which explains every flicker. Two things almost make it worth the effort: the sombre colours of Kenneth MacMillan's photography and, as Abbott number three, the always watchable Liv Tyler, who has a charming way of seeming serene and ungainly at the same time. JW
Nothing to Lose (15)
Directed by Steve Oedekerk
One can only wonder what was going through Tim Robbins's mind when he signed up for this farcical and rather soppy odd-couple buddy comedy about an enraged LA advertising executive who turns the tables on a carjacker, befriends him and ends up giving him a job. Perhaps Robbins is taking those Orson Welles comparisons too literally. Perhaps he's tired of being Hollywood's liberal conscience. Or perhaps he just wanted to do the scene where he dances around by the side of the road with his shoes on fire. JW
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