Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek
Director: Oliver Stone (CERT 15, 130 minutes)
The plot: High-minded seriousness and flash trash have long been at war in the films of Oliver Stone, and it’s the latter that has the upper hand in this tale of sex, drugs and violent misadventure in southern California. Ethical activist Ben (Taylor-Johnson) and former Navy SEAL Chon (Kitsch) are high-grade cannabis cultivators, whose thriving trade attracts the attention of Mexican drug cartel topper Elena (Hayek). When the pals rebuff her business proposal, she encourages a rethink by kidnapping the beautiful Ophelia (Lively), aka O, who is the boys’ shared girlfriend.
What’s right with it? As O ricochets between hot-and-heavy sessions with her tag-team lovers in their beachfront pad, we sure couldn’t help admiring the scenery. But the film really gets cooking with the arrival of the Mexican characters, notably Hayek’s impeccably groomed mob boss, and Lado, her scuzzy enforcer (Benicio del Toro). With Chon’s ex-military buddies on hand to help, the lads execute an ingenious plan – spreading suspicion among the cartel’s ranks and finally locating Elena’s Achilles’ heel – that really grips.
What’s wrong with it? The opening stretch is marred by way too much voiceover, as Ophelia explains at length how sensitive Ben and battle-scarred Chon are complementary halves of a whole. You can stop telling us now, Blake, we get it.
Verdict: In days gone by, Mexico’s drugs war might have been a natural topic for one of Stone’s more serious-minded efforts. We’re happy that he instead opted for this slightly bonkers, low-nutrition genre flick. 4/5 @charlesgant
Starring: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Andrew Dominik (CERT 18, 97 minuts)
The plot: Petty criminal Frankie (McNairy) thinks that the Mob will never suspect him and his idiot pal (Mendelsohn) of robbing their poker game. But, when professional enforcer Jackie Cogan (Pitt) arrives to punish them, his optimism falters.
What’s right with it? Offering the highly accessible thrills that were lacking in Pitt and director Dominik’s collaboration, The Assassination Of Jesse James…, this is a taut, effective piece.
What’s wrong with it? Violence-phobics should give it a miss, and don’t come looking for significant female characters.
Verdict: Among this season’s rash of brutal flicks, Lawless, Dredd and Savages all live up to their bloodthirsty titles. Killing Them Softly offers plenty of killing – softly, not so much. 4/5 @charlesgant
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Jeremy Irvine, Kaya Scodelario
Director: Ol Parker (CERT 12A, 103 minutes)
The plot: In this British drama, based on the novel by Jenny Downham, cancer sufferer Tessa (Fanning) decides to race through her bucket list rather than prolong painful treatment. On hand to help is handsome neighbour Adam (Irvine).
What’s right with it? You’ll need your hankies for the ending, but there are smiles along the way as feisty Tessa, Adam and her best mate Zoey (Scodelario) live life to the full. Paddy Considine and Olivia Williams are brilliant as Tessa’s parents, too.
What’s wrong with it? It’s only mildly entertaining and, if you’re easily bothered by accents, Dakota’s bash at a British one could grate.
Verdict: The road’s a bit rocky, but this weepie will hit you where it hurts in the end. 3/5 @annasmithjourno