Michael Sheen in The Damned United / image courtesy of Sony Pictures
Our weekly round-up of film reviews...
Michael Sheen should perhaps consider banning his agent from sending him roles based on other people. He's played Tony Blair (soon for the third time), David Frost, Kenneth Williams, Jeremy Dyson from the League of Gentlemen, HG Wells and Emperor Nero - all very well, but the man's getting typecast as the country's greatest impersonator. And he's at it again as Brian Clough in The Damned United, in what the Guardian (4 stars) calls the "best performance of his big-screen career" in an "undemanding but richly enjoyable, expertly constructed and effortlessly acted film". Based on (but less dark than) David Peace's book about Clough's disastrous 44 day spell in charge of Leeds United, "the disconcerting detail is how little real football action there actually is... The old- fashioned point of The Damned United is that it’s a psychological thriller" (The Times, 4 stars). The Independent (3 stars) revels in the period detail: "that Match of the Day era of kipper ties, bouffant hair, sheepskin coats, Jimmy Hill's beard, orange footballs, and pitches that looked like the battlefields of Flanders", while Empire finds it's "more a collection of sharply observed scenes than a comfortable whole... but there is something here that rings true" (3 stars).
"Paranormal communication, clairvoyance, visitors from another world, and Nicolas Cage as an astrophysics professor. Take your pick as to which is the least plausible" says The Independent (1 star) about Knowing. A time capsule holds a series of numbers that predicts disasters and, as these things do, the end of humanity. Cage, "who looks increasingly like a child’s drawing of a worried goat, puts unnerving, shouty emphasis on random words to stress how urgent the situation is" (The Times, 1 star). Not everybody's so unkind; the Evening Standard thinks it's "just too ambitious for its own good" (2 stars) whle the Guardian reckons it's "saved by a great ending" (3 stars).
The Guardian finds Michael Winterbottom's Genova "intriguing but frustrating... more like a tentative sketch for a movie than the actual finished product" (2 stars). Colin Firth is the father who takes his young family to Genova after the death of his wife, a storyline that has all the critics citing Don't Look Now. The Evening Standard loves the "intimately reflective drama" (4 stars) whereas the Independent finds it "absolutely inconsequential, and (in time) mildly annoying" (1 star).
Don Cheadle plays a Muslim former US Special Forces soldier who goes over to the 'other side' of the War on Terror in Traitor. The film is "more carefully measured than many of its American contemporaries" according to Empire (3 stars), but The Times thinks the "moral maze is not quite as murky as it should be" (3 stars) and The Independent watches as it "reverts to standard thriller tropes" (2 stars).
Two Lovers is the last film Joaquin Phoenix made before declaring he was giving up acting to be a (terrible) rapper and going slightly bonkers on Letterman. The Times believes that's "an artistic tragedy... at his best, Phoenix can be a fascinating actor" (3 stars). Phoenix plays a man urged by his family to follow one path and marry one woman, but who finds himself falling for someone very different - Gwyneth Paltrow. The Guardian spots a "credibility gap... [Phoenix's] situation, though viewed through the smoked glass of gloomy realism, is an indulgent fantasy" (2 stars). But it's Phoenix who makes the film: "the detail in his performance as he struggles to make sense of his life is magnificent" says the Evening Standard (3 stars).
James Toback's documentary of Mike Tyson features a mix of archive footage and candid interviews. "Pure documentary poetry" says The Times (4 stars), while Empire sees a "very humane portrait of a potentially extremely unlikeable character" (4 stars). The Guardian dares to demur: "he's no Ali, and there's no point looking to Iron Mike for wit or idealism... So why exactly are we in his company for an hour and a half? This isn't clear" (2 stars).
Martyrs is "a slick essay in Gallic torture porn in which a pair of hysterical young women slip and slide around in pools of blood wearing naught but their undies" according to the Guardian (1 star). The Times agrees: "it’s a genuinely harrowing experience and I didn’t make it all the way through to the end" (2 stars).
Far more engaging is Afghan Star, "a shrewd and entertaining guide" (Guardian, 3 stars) to Afghanistan's popular Pop Idol-type TV show. The documentary examines the programme maker's claims of promoting unity, and also "reveals that tribalism is only one of the problems. 'She should be killed,' says a young man of a female contestant who dared to dance on stage" (Times, 3 stars).
Uma Thurman plays the adult survivor of a high school shooting, told in flashback, in The Life Before Her Eyes. "Vadim Perelman's drama is both tasteful and tedious" says The Guardian (2 stars), while The Times wonders "surely the point of a 'twist' is that it should slot into the plot with a satisfying click, not that it should invalidate 50 per cent of what came before it? " (1 star).
The Haunting in Connecticut is also out this week, but it doesn't appear to have been shown to critics before release... which is never a good sign.
Next week: Richard Curtis returns with The Boat That Rocked and Easter animation with Monsters vs Aliens.