Starring: Keira Knightley, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Jude Law, Domhnall Gleeson
Director: Joe Wright (CERT 12A, 130 minutes)
The plot: Joe Wright directed Keira Knightley for her best performances in Pride And Prejudice and Atonement. Now, the pair have a crack at this Leo Tolstoy doorstopper. In late 19th-century Russia, Anna Karenina (Knightley) risks her marriage to her older husband (Law) when she falls for dashing cavalry officer Count Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson – new married surname alert! He wed artist Sam Taylor-Wood in June). Princess Kitty (Alicia Vikander), also smitten with Vronsky, rebuffs the advances of nice-guy landowner Levin (Gleeson).
What’s right with it? There has been no shortage of faithful adaptations of this classic text, so respect to Wright for trying something different: an arthouse twist on Moulin Rouge! With action switching between a naturalistic and theatrical staging of events, we’re drawn into the mind of the increasingly unstable Anna, who pays a heavy price for trying to have it all in a male-dominated society. Standout performances are Law as the principled family
man Alexei Karenin, and Gleeson as noble, rustic Levin.
What’s wrong with it? The theatrics do take some getting used to, and may have been more motivated by budgetary concerns – saving on exterior locations – than creative ones. Taylor-Johnson certainly looks the part as toy boy Vronsky, but the 22 year old doesn’t quite deliver on swoonsome manliness.
Verdict: Wright’s stylised concept allows the huge tome to be compressed into just over two hours, briskly whizzing the characters through their paces. Fans of traditional period drama, however, should look elsewhere. 4/5 @charlesgant
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce
Director: John Hillcoat (CERT 18, 116 minutes)
The plot: In Prohibition-era rural Virginia, three brothers defy the law with their moonshine distillery. Events turn violent when the authorities send in a ruthless enforcer (Pearce).
What’s right with it? Hardy does his taciturn manly thing again as the seemingly indestructible middle brother, but the real surprise is LaBeouf as youngest sibling Jack, who steps up as the brains of the operation.
What’s wrong with it? Despite Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain providing some romantic interest, this is more about fighting than loving, and the film earns its 18 certificate for “strong bloody violence”.
Verdict: A great cast, including Gary Oldman and young Dane DeHaan, elevates this grittily enjoyable crime saga. 4/5 @charlesgant
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
Director: Pete Travis (CERT 18, 96 minutes)
The plot: In a dystopian future America, a masked cop with the authority to execute felons (Urban) finds himself trapped with his rookie partner (Thirlby) inside a tower block whose occupants want them dead.
What’s right with it? Fans of stylised, violent mayhem are well catered for by a slick actioner that bucks the trend by making its villain female (Headey).
What’s wrong with it? It’s still a very male-oriented affair, with little humour beyond its hero’s Dirty Harry-style quips.
Verdict: Beaten into cinemas by the similar (and superior) The Raid, this second film outing for cult comic-book character JD will tickle aficionados more than the 1995 Sly Stallone version, but may have some trouble connecting with a wider audience. 3/5 NEIL SMITH