LAWLESS (18) Gangsters and dirty cops have their moments but don't quite deliver
Imagine The Waltons with gangsters and savage violence and you'll be some way towards the flavour of this enjoyable but ultimately unsuccessful quasi-western.
It's based on real-life family the Bondurants; Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke), who rule the roost as moonshine boot-leggers during American prohibition in 1931. They're the guys supplying the gangsters in the city, Gary Oldman among them, and they've got a nice little business going in their Virginia mountain town, with everyone in on it, even the local cops.
But trouble arrives with Guy Pearce as a dirty city cop who wants an even bigger slice of the action. Jack meanwhile wants a bigger part to play in the family business and so starts branching out on his own, leading to further trouble.
Blessed with an earthy machismo and a fine bluegrass score, Lawless is rambling, funny, blisteringly violent and certainly not without its diverting moments. But the frustrating thing is that all the elements are in place for what could be an epic drama of crime and family, if only the sloppiness of the writing and the construction didn't frequently scupper its chances.
Blame a ragged Nick Cave screenplay that just won't sit at peace after a strong start, never seeming quite able to settle into a groove even while offering plenty of muscular scenes and much that entertains.
Characters disappear for long stretches, Pearce in particular. For someone supposedly out to get the Bondurant boys, he doesn't half ignore them for long stretches, and Pearce occasionally threatens to unbalance things with his foppish performance.
Forrest is the leader and the myth that he is indestructible gets good mileage, and offers lots of opportunity for dark laughs. Hardy is quiet and dangerous, all cardigan-wearing and mumbling like Brando in The Godfather, not the amped-up thug he often plays.
LaBeouf is also solid, though subplots like Jack's wooing of Mia Wasikowska tend to distract from the main thrust, which takes an age to stumble towards a less than satisfactory outcome.
Running Time: 115 mins
Director: John Hillcoat
anna karenina (12a) Knightley offers good performance but even she can't make us care
LEO TOLSTOY'S tragic romance is brought to the screen by playwright Tom Stoppard and Joe Wright, a director with previous in the costumed literary adaptation department and with having Keira Knightley as his leading lady.
She does a fine job in the title role as the 19th-Century Russian aristocrat who is married to Jude Law but who embarks on an affair with soldier Vronsky (Aaron Johnson).
This is Wright's Anna Karenina by way of Baz Luhrmann, a production full of theatricality and artifice that takes place mostly on and around a theatre stage, with props and sets moving fluidly from scene to scene.
It's a ravishing vision and, at least while Wright is using this device to good effect, it distracts us from the fact that there's little spark between Anna and Vronsky.
Strong performances, particularly by Law as the only character worth investing in, are a plus, but it's strangely lifeless and as the affair and its fallout progresses, it grows increasingly dry and inert.
Eventually it becomes a trawl through the manners and reputation of a bunch of horrendous people and therefore tougher and tougher to care.
Running Time: 130 mins
Director: Joe Wright
DREDD (18) Swift justice looks glorious as judges face battle in tower block
As is often the case with futuristic thrillers, America is a wasteland, with 800 million people living in the walled off Mega-City One.
Only the Judges, who are in fact judge, jury and executioner rolled into one neat package, keep any sense of order.
The most feared of these would appear to be Dredd (Karl Urban, never unmasked), and we should just take it as read that he's the baddest of the bad-asses.
But they're losing control of the city, and on the day Dredd takes on rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who happens to be psychic, they are trapped in a 200-floor tower block controlled by vicious gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).
With the building locked down and Ma-Ma telling the residents she wants the Judges dead, the film takes on the mantle of The Raid from a few months ago, as Dredd and Anderson make their way up through the levels, eviscerating goons at every turn.
Amid the slaughter, it's smart enough to pause to consider the moralities and consequences of a system that endorses this savage avenger, this Dirty Harry in a Robocop mask, before barrelling ahead anyway with the massacre.
As an action blast it ticks most boxes; justice is swift, merciless and bloody, and the impact of this is often troublingly satisfying. It looks absolutely glorious, with super stylised slow-motion sequences, and blood and bits flying everywhere.
It's single-minded to a degree that can occasionally become repetitive and tedious, though there is enough style and zip to banish memories of the widely derided Stallone version from 1995.
Running Time: 95 mins
Director: Pete Travis