THOUGH it boasts a leading man in Brad Pitt, Killing Them Softly is a modestly budgeted crime saga, a curious concoction that's as interested in thematic point scoring as it is in its characters.
It begins with a couple of low-rent crooks who are hired to knock off a mob poker game run by Ray Liotta. Liotta himself had previously ripped off the participants and been forgiven, the logic being that no-one would believe he's dumb enough to try it again.
He's not, but the guys who did have created a world of hurt for him. Enter Pitt as Cogan, the hitman charged with sorting out the mess. The proper gangsters are never seen, but they're represented by Richard Jenkins, who meets with Cogan to discuss plans and payments. This is the admin side of organised crime, and though the scenes between Jenkins and Pitt are comical, it's all very seedy and sad.
Where Goodfellas dealt in the second tier of wiseguys rather than those running the show like in The Godfather, this is the strata below even them, the thugs and lowlifes. It's all just a bit odd in places, especially whenever James Gandolfini pops up as an out-of-town associate of Cogan who's been brought on board for the job. Quite why he's there is never clearly established, and there are a couple of long diversions into his personal life that seem out of place with the rest of the film, causing a loss of focus from what is after all supposed to be a thriller. But most everything else is compelling.
There's a hyper-style to the violence, with super slow motion that recalls Dredd from a couple of weeks ago. And outwith the Gandolfini scenes, the dialogue is fresh, ice-cold and intelligent.
Pitt is a disarming mix of charm, patience and lethal force, but particular mention should go to the ever excellent Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, so impressive last year in Animal Kingdom, who delivers another twitchy, sleazy turn as one of the pair of robbers.
Unlike director Andrew Dominik's previous film, bloated western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, it doesn't feel the need to hang around for three hours, though it is still very talky, some of it distracting and unnecessary, rather drifting around in search of a point.
Constant references are made and parallels drawn between the goings on here and the 2008 world financial meltdown. Cogan is a capitalist, who wants paid for his services as much as the next man, and the title, a late change from the somewhat more evocative Cogan's Trade, comes from his preferred method of assassination, taking his targets out from a distance with the minimum of fuss and emotional investment.
And while emotional investment is not something you could ever accuse Killing Them Softly of generating, it delivers enough smarts, laughs and visceral thrills to overcome that.
Director: Andrew Dominik
Running time: 97 mins
HYSTERIA (15) ***
IN 1880s London, many modern ideas of medicine haven't yet been accepted by the establishment, to the frustration of Hugh Dancy's forward thinking doctor.
He gets a position at a practice run by Jonathan Pryce where he treats women diagnosed with the catch-all condition of 'hysteria' in a way that can't really be described in a family newspaper.
Meanwhile Pryce's daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) fights for the poor and underprivileged, as well as speaking out for women's suffrage. Well meaning, nice looking and occasionally a bit ridiculous, this is all rather twee and predictable. But though fluffy, it tackles an important subject matter in the treatment of and attitude towards women in Victorian society with reverence.
The breezy tone might occasionally be mistaken for an oo-er-missus lack of gravitas, but it's also necessary to make what are some very intimate scenes palatable to the average audience member.
Director: Tanya Wexler
Running time: 99 mins
NOW IS GOOD (12A) ***
HAVING Lived for four years with leukaemia, 17- year-old Tessa (Dakota Fanning) knows she only has a few months to live, and has a list of things she wants to do before she dies.
She's aided in this when she meets the boy next door (Jeremy Irvine), and their wholesome adventures are harmless if a little twee.
Tessa is initially a disagreeable character, using her condition to give her the right to be rude to everyone who's trying to help her, and this adds a bit of an edge.
Fanning is very, very English, and her straining with the accent can sometimes be a distraction, though Irvine shows more of a personality than he did in War Horse.
You can't argue with the gravity of the situation, and at least it doesn't skimp on the harsh realities of illness, with the final stages tastefully handled and able to wring some genuine emotion, particularly regarding Tessa's parents.
Unfortunately it too often descends into the British seaside equivalent of a Nicholas Sparks book, all snow angels and walks on the beach, though a deal less cloying e, especially when it's time to get busy dying.
Director: Ol Parker
Running time: 103 mins
TOWER BLOCK (15) ***
IN A city tower block awaiting demolition, the residents still needing to be re-housed all live on the top floor, where a teenager was recently beaten to death.
The first while is spent meeting these residents, some of them decent and some more criminally minded, and played by a selection of British TV faces including Sheridan Smith, Russell Tovey and Jack O'Connell.
But, unexpectedly, a sniper begins targeting each flat and, with a few dead, the survivors are trapped in the hall with no working lifts or phones and the sniper waiting to pick them off as they try to plot their escape.
There are some well-timed shocks in a tight little thriller peopled by a handful of interesting characters.
A few well-designed moments of suspense help compensate for the plot's contrivances and major holes, and a lively O'Connell provides a welcome spark of humour.
Directors: James Nunn, Ronnie Thompson
HUNGARIAN RHAPSODY: QUEEN LIVE IN BUDAPEST (12A) ****
GETTING a one day only release today, from the moment this concert film bursts into life with One Vision, it becomes clear just how good Queen were.
Spectacularly staged and well edited, the set contains most of their great hits, from Bohemian Rhapsody to We Are the Champions, as they prove themselves one of the great bands, and Freddie Mercury the ultimate showman.
Obviously if the music isn't your cup of tea this won't convert you, but anyone remotely interested in Queen should rush to see it .
Running time: 119 mins