Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup in A Prophet / image courtesy of Optimum Releasing
Our weekly round-up of film reviews
A Prophet "will be bracketed in years to come as a prison drama, but it will stay in the memory of those who see it as a character study, bristling with cross-currents of feeling and sharp observation" says the Independent (4 stars). Malik, a French Muslim, is sent to jail and almost immediately picked out by a Corsican mafia boss as a perfect new assassin. Caught between two warring tribes, he becomes our guide to the French prison system and "we begin to understand how a society entirely based on criminality - the prison - draws the most brutal parts of human nature into the open" (Evening Standard, 5 stars). The Guardian (5 stars) praises director Jacques Audiard: "this is the work of the rarest kind of film-maker, the kind who knows precisely what he is doing and where he is going. The film's every effect is entirely intentional", the Times (5 stars) expanding on his "boldest move to spike this brutal, cold-eyed clarity with potent little doses of hallucinatory fantasy... Audiard's occasional stylistic flourishes are equally effective". The Telegraph (3 stars), however, strikes a dissenting note: "its similarity to pulp Hollywood... now makes it seem more rather than less generic. It certainly doesn't reshape American B-movie fodder with the flair and sharpness one finds in early Truffaut or Godard".
Clive Owen plays a sports journalist trying to cope with parenthood after the sudden death of his second wife, and the unexpected arrival of his estranged teenaged son, in The Boys are Back. "Owen is no filmgoer's idea of a committed dad, which is precisely why the casting works. He gives the surface impression of taking everything in his stride, while digging away underneath at petty frustrations and the yawning void in his life" (Telegraph, 3 stars). Empire (3 stars) can "picture men choking up over this life-affirming weepy from the uninhibiting environment of their couches" but the Independent (1 star), from whose journalistic stable the original true-life story came, is less impressed with the changes from the book: "the film has a situation but no drama, cutting between Joe's sublimated grief and a slightly nauseating sentimentality about kids and the 'crazy' things they say".
Tobey Maguire is a career soldier, missing-presumed-dead in Afghanistan; Jake Gyllenhaal is his wayward sibling trying to fill the void for his wife (Natalie Portman) and young children in Brothers. "The film feels like a spirit-sapping tour of duty: lightweight stars doing Big Emotions" complains the Telegraph (2 stars). Directed by Jim Sheridan and adapted from a 2004 Susanne Bier film, it "looks like mainstream Hollywood with a weird dollop of painful arthouse drama" (Guardian, 2 stars). On the other hand, the Standard found it "utterly absorbing... as rowdy, democratic and open-ended as a Robert Altman saga" (3 stars).
Armored is a "tough, tight genre picture" (Independent, 3 stars) with an ensemble cast - including Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne and Jean Reno - as a team of hacked-off security guards who fake-heist one of their own vans. It's "essentially 'Die Hard in a van', [and] not nearly as good as it promises to be" says the Times (2 stars) - it "neglects even the most basic and cursory facts that could make it work" explains the Guardian (2 stars).
Might it be churlish to suggest that Burlesque Undressed is less a "well-made documentary offer[ing] a thorough look at the dance-form's resurgent popularity" (Empire, 3 stars) and more a plug for producer and star Immodesty Blaize? The Independent (2 stars) suggests it would "look better as a late-night documentary on E4; on the big screen its impact feels rather lost" while the Standard finds it "shameless stuff and about as sexy as a poke in the groin with a blunt stick" (1 star).
Produced by the Wachowski Brothers, Ninja Assassin is the touching and heartwarming tale of a band of ninjas who travel Europe killing people in their ninja style. (We lied about the touching and heartwarming bit.) "Needlessly gory, painfully predictable" says the Times (1 star) while the Guardian "found it a living death of boredom" (1 star). Ninja fans at the Telegraph (3 stars) were more forgiving: "it's easy to laugh at the mixed platter of Asian stock characters... but the fight scenes are mostly great".
Before Toy Story 3 hits screens in summer, Toy Story 2 gets put into 3D and allowed out for two weeks only. The tech doesn't add much: "the Pixar approach is to avoid in-your-face, eye-gouging, audience-bating moments, and to use the extra dimension to enhance what's already there rather than dominate it" (Times, 4 stars), but the tale of Woody's dilemma over leaving his beloved Andy and going to a toy museum "is still bizarrely gripping and moving" (Guardian, 5 stars). The Standard simply looks you in the eyes and dares you to disagree as it declares the film "is a masterpiece; it always was" (5 stars).
Next week: Mel Gibson is a cop investigating his daughter's death in Edge of Darkness and awards-magnet Precious: A Novel by Sapphire hits our shores.