OUT OF THE FURNACE (15, 117 mins)

OUT OF THE FURNACE (15, 117 mins)

Director: Scott Cooper

3 stars

MUCH like last year's The Place Beyond the Pines, Out of the Furnace is a sprawling drama of family, crime and morality whose ambition is both one of its strongest assets and ultimately its downfall.

It's a rough-edged Deer Hunter rehash that clearly wants to be about something, but instead of the legacy of Vietnam, it's the legacy of a dying America fighting recession and unemployment.

Taking its thematic cues from hitman drama Killing Them Softly, it begins during Obama's presidential campaign against the backdrop of the financial crisis.

In a grimy and ominous scene-setter, we meet Woody Harrelson's tough guy, who leaves us in no doubt what a nasty piece of work he is.

Then we move on to our protagonist, Russell (Christian Bale), a decent, mill-working guy trying to do the right thing. He looks out for his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), who owes money to some bad men, and is struggling to find work after his Middle East military tours.

His debt belongs to Willem Dafoe, who reluctantly counts Harrelson as an associate in a bare-knuckle fight game that Rodney ends up getting mixed up in.

Then there's Russell's girlfriend (Zoe Saldana), who leaves him for Forest Whitaker's cop after a tragic accident sends Russell to prison.

This is a movie absolutely bursting at the seams with story elements, and the issue of how can it all possibly knit together is a thorny one. Like Pines, so much is packed in that there's just no way to satisfactorily cover all these events in just two hours.

This sort of ambition is to be admired, but in a way the eventual failure can be more frustrating than if it were simply junk.

It's blue collar integrity versus military sacrifice in an economically broken country where inexpressive men with a strong family bond deal in glowering machismo and smokestack laments.

It's the kind of gritty Springsteen-writ-large movie Sean Penn used to direct in the 90s, but one so beholden to The Deer Hunter that not only does it appropriate its Pennsylvania setting and its rescue element , it actually contains a scene where the characters hunt deer.

That would be fine if the third act was more satisfying or even remotely believable. But it so overextends itself when Russell turns into something he's never shown signs of being that it utterly fails to earn what transpires.

As a result, a strong grip that was exerted in a more than decent first half is washed away, making this a bold failure and a missed opportunity.

See it if you liked: The Place Beyond the Pines, The Deer Hunter, Brothers


Director: Tom Gormican

1 star

High School Musical star Zac Efron goes potty-mouthed in this thoroughly charmless rom-com.

He's one of three pals (along with Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan) who form a pact to enjoy their single lives and not get involved in a relationship.

This is complicated when Efron starts to fall for Imogen Poots, who he seems able to make laugh, but not the audience.

Everything about this dismal effort is crude and manufactured and comedy-free, improvised by actors not really skilled enough to get away with it.

It is unpleasant characters indulging in moronic behaviour and lies, with clear signs from the start where they're all going to end up, but giving us nothing to care about while we get there.

See it if you liked: Friends with Benefits, No Strings Attached, American Pie

LONE SURVIVOR (15, 121 mins)

Director: Peter Berg

3 stars

Based on a true story, this solid action thriller is the account of a 2005 mission where a group of four Navy SEALs (Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster) were dropped deep in Afghanistan to capture or kill a top Taliban target.

The early stages on the base are careful to paint their brotherhood, but not in a cheesy or overblown way, before they head out on the mission.

Once on the ground tension grows and the set-up is full of intimate but not over-explained detail until they're forced to engage in a gunfight with the Taliban.

The action when it comes is visceral and sharp, throwing you into the middle with a good sense of physical space that is only occasionally lost, and it's a gruelling assault, skilfully constructed through strong camerawork and exceptional sound design.

Director Peter Berg should take credit for his composed approach without going all gung-ho, and though a bit one-track, this is impactful stuff.

See it if you liked: Zero Dark Thirty, Act of Valour, Black Hawk Down

THE ARMSTRONG LIE (15, 124 mins)

Director: Alex Gibney

3 stars

Documentarian Alex Gibney started making this film as a chronicle of cyclist Lance Armstrong's 2009 comeback in the Tour de France.

Then the doping scandal erupted and he was forced to put it on hold, but now he's returned to dig for further truths.

It's also a full account of Armstrong's life and career, how he went from a sporting hero to a hate-figure, well structured and jam-packed with archive footage.

Around this footage Gibney has conducted his own interviews with Armstrong himself, from 2009 when he denied everything, and from 2013 when he came clean.

He's a deeply fascinating subject and this is certainly a compelling look into a dirty and damaged sport, but the point is made very early on, and two hours of covering the same ground over and over is a little more than we need.

I, FRANKENSTEIN (12A, 92 mins)

Director: Stuart Beattie

1 star

So, erm, some of the the sets are quite nice in this unbelievably daft horror fantasy that begins in 1795 as we hear about the monster (in the shape of Aaron Eckhart) created by Victor Frankenstein.

He's taken in and named Adam by Miranda Otto, leader of a mysterious band of shape-shifters, and the moment she announces "I am queen of the gargoyle order", all semblance of sense goes out the window.

Once she's told him about the order's centuries-old fight against demons, we jump to the present day where Adam is hunting them and Bill Nighy's shady businessman threatens to reanimate an army of demons using Frankenstein's journal.

With ideas that a 10-year-old would come up with in a school story, this would barely pass muster on the Syfy channel.

As a $60m would-be blockbuster, it's a complete embarrassment that, when not being risible, is brutally dull or just plain stupid. Fight scenes are the same thing over and over, and offer little distraction from the parade of monumental gobbledegook that is the script.

See it if you liked: Underworld, Van Helsing, Legion