Film: Hell on earth: between the Devil and the deep blue sea

The best of the rest of this week's new films, reviewed by Ryan Gilbey and Mark Wilson.
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Das Boot (The Boat)

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

(cert 15). Showing only at the Plaza Piccadilly, Lower Regent St, London W1 (0171-437 1234)

If Hell is other people, to be locked up in a steel tube for weeks at a time with 50 casual acquaintances, rotting sides of meat and one toilet between you has to be the Devil's money-spinning sideline. With considerable flair but still retaining the intimate scale of human drama, Wolfgang Petersen's submarine epic makes a virtue of the constraints and draws the viewer into a suffocating world of extremes: soul-destroying boredom and terrified, frenzied action. As the Captain of the U-boat, Jurgen Prochnow (seen recently in The English Patient) exudes both authority and resignation: he takes no relish in his task but will spare no effort to see that the job - and that is all it is - gets done. His Chief Engineer (Klaus Wenneman) is particularly impressive as a man pushed beyond the limits of mental and physical endurance.

Petersen's filmic style is virtuosic: the Arriflex camera (a forerunner of today's ubiquitous Steadicam) careers arrogantly along the length of the submarine's belly, paying no regard to the men who have to dive out of its path. The lighting and composition have a painterly quality - chiaroscuro tableaux of huddled bodies, their gaunt, harshly lit faces stark against the boat's gloom. And, in an environment where the enemy is invisible, the digitally-remixed sound is uncannily realistic, from the foreboding ping of the enemy destroyer's sonar to the explosions as rivets give way at extreme depths.

At times, the moral message becomes too simplistic and heavy-handed - the weary fatalism of the old pro set against the youthful fervour of a Nazi ideologue - and the ironies-of-war denouement is trite and calculatedly sentimental. That apart, Das Boot remains an astonishingly truthful depiction of the horror and banality of war, superbly paced, masterfully acted and emotionally engrossing, yet free of bravado and triumphalism. (MW)

Breaking Up

Director: Robert Greenwald (cert 15). On general release

It will be a rotten year if there's a worse film than Breaking Up released in the next 12 months. A few minutes into this witless two hander and it suddenly dawns on you that it's not going to get any better; the spoiled brat lovers played by Russell Crowe and Salem Hayek are going to keep separating, calling each other, analysing their relationship, hopping into bed and then separating again, and each time you are going to care about them a little less. Crowe and Hayek give themselves hernias trying to make something of the tissue thin script. While the director Robert Greenwald sprinkles vox-pop inserts and fantasy sequences but to no avail - this is the sort of picture that can sap your will to live. (RG)

I Went Down

Director: Paddy Breatnach (cert 15). On general release

It hasn't been a good day for Git (Peter McDonald). He's just got out of prison, his girlfriend has dumped him and, to cap it all, he's had a run-in with a local gangster, Tom French (Tony Doyle), who now thinks he owns him. Down-trodden Git unwillingly joins forces with brash, incompetent Bunny (Brendan Gleeson), a slave to pointless acts of petty crime, and the duo set off to Cork to do a little job, "an easy ride", for French. Conor McPherson's take on the road movie is deftly written, the dialogue sharp and witty without being ostentatious, while McDonald and Gleeson are excellent as fundamentally good-hearted boys caught up in the shenanigans of old-time crime bosses. And it features the best gag about being forced to watch a 1970s Open University algebra programme ever committed to celluloid. (MW)

Lewis & Clark & George

Director: Rod McCall (no cert). Only showing 23-29 Jan at the NFT, South Bank, London SE1 (0171-928 3232)

Coming a distant second in this week's road-movie stakes, this self- consciously quirky offering is unashamed of regurgitating most of the genre's cliches. Lewis and Clark (Xuereb and Gunther) play escaped cons who meet the mute, enigmatic George (McGowan) en route to finding a hidden gold mine in Mexico. It's brash and punctuated by comic-book violence, substituting mannered dialogue and directorial tricks - fast pans, speeded- up photography, jump cuts - for structure or pace. (MW)

Lucie Aubrac

Director: Claude Berri (cert

12). On limited release

Claude Berri's films are hymns to the strength of the common man, and to the sturdiness of old-fashioned narrative cinema, but his sombre style can squeeze the life out of any story. His new movie Lucie Aubrac is a partially true story about a resistance hero, Raymond (Daniel Auteuil), and his wife Lucie (Carole Bouquet), and how their love survived the stomp of the jackboot. There isn't much more to it than secret meetings, noble suffering and, finally, a pleasingly tense jail break. Berri's overdeliberate direction and palate of greys, browns and greens very nearly smother the film, though some incidental pleasures survive his deadening touch - like the secretary who blithely continues typing while Raymond is being beaten, or the moments when Carole Bouquet's composure cracks and she allows us to glimpse the pain that's concealed by Lucie's bravery. (RG)

Up 'n' Under

Director: John Godber (cert 12). On general release

Bobbing up and down aimlessly in the wake of The Full Monty, Up 'n' Under presents another in the series of stories about pride, jealousy and triumph over adversity. This time it's Arthur (Gary Olsen), a former professional Rugby League player turned painter and decorator, who has to transform a motley collection of professional bar proppers and overweight layabouts into a team capable of beating the best Amateur League club in the North. All your Britcom favourites are here, hamming up a lightweight but sporadically titter-inducing script, adapted by debut director John Godber from his own stage play. The camera dwells most lovingly on fitness instructor Hazel (Samantha Janus)'s legs and beatific smile, so it's often less a case of The Foul Monty than Carry On Balls. (MW)

Jasper Rees interviews John Godber on p10

The Winner

Director: Alex Cox (cert 15). Only at ABC Shaftesbury Ave, London W1

Exactly what was it that attracted Rebecca DeMornay, executive producer, to the script is hard to fathom. It's perhaps easier to understand director Alex Cox's interest, given his weird and wonderful first feature film, The Repo Man, which was both grounded in the day-to-day struggles of life and prone to delicious flights of fantasy. Where that film succeeded in its surreality, this tale of an innocent (Vincent D'Onofrio) blessed (or cursed) with the ability to touch other people with good luck (a real friend-winner in Vegas) just comes across as faintly ridiculous. Cox himself contrives to make an absurd cameo appearance ("My! He can laugh at himself") and Michael Madsen simply reprises his Pulp Fiction role. By the time the quasi-mystical final scene ambles on, all you can do is laugh.

(MW)

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