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Round Up Films of the week: February 2

The Star's critics review Phantom Thread, Winchester, Roman J Israel Esq, Lies We Tell, and Den of Thieves

Phantom Thread (15)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson


IN PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON’S truly unique romantic drama, Daniel Day-Lewis is unforgettable and totally spellbinding in his portrayal of celebrated 1950s London dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock


His life and work, lived by his own rules, are disrupted when he falls for continental waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps, enthralling) and brings her home to London where her comment that her breasts are too small as he measures her are met with “You're perfect. It's my job to keep you so” from Woodcock.


Alma soon becomes his muse, but the course of true love runs rough when Woodcock’s cruel and jealous sister Cyril, superbly played by Lesley Manville, decides to get rid of the interloper and intervenes. “Don't pick a fight with me, you certainly won't come out alive,” she warns.


Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t put a foot wrong, both as director and scenarist in a film with no wasted lines or scenes. It grips from the start and does so throughout as his cast bring fascinating roles compellingly to life.




Alan Frank


Winchester (15)
Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig


THIS haunted-house saga may not reinvent the supernatural horror wheel, but, if you enjoy cliched scares, you won't be disappointed.

“Inspired by true events,” it stars the great Helen Mirren as firearms heiress Sarah Winchester who is haunted by the souls of those killed by the Winchester rifle her company makes. She claims that they have instructed her to rebuild her home which just outside San Francisco.


The troubled Doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is sent there to assess whether or not the eccentric widow is sound of mind and thus able to continue running the family business.


Very slick and stylishly Gothic, it's deliciously creepy, but, sadly, the horror tropes are nothing that we haven't seen before.


Yet the cast seem wholly invested in this outlandish tale and give their all and that's enough to keep you engaged.




Roman J Israel, Esq. (15)
Directed by Dan Gilroy


Gilroy struck critical gold with his media-baiting directorial debut Nightcrawler.


Here, writing and directing, he tells the story of small-time LA defence lawyer Roman J Israel (Denzel Washington, electrifying) who's devoted to fighting for civil rights.


But his career disintegrates when his boss dies. Recruited by a posh law firm's CEO George Pierce (Colin Farrell), his new social and work milieus poison Washington’s principles and he commits an inexcusable crime, claiming: “I am tired of doing the impossible for the ungrateful.”


The sudden swerves in narrative direction are sometimes hard to swallow in this take on warped US justice, a familiar cinematic theme.


That said, Washington’s spellbinding performance grabs from the start. His increasingly strange behaviour, channelling the early Jerry Lewis, vividly metamorphoses into a smoother-than-smooth, seemingly ethics-free attorney.


It's entertaining, even when storytelling and logic separate.




Lies We Tell (15)
Directed by Mitu Misra


A CRIME thriller set in West Yorkshire starring a gun-toting Gabriel Byrne and Harvey Keitel might at first glance seem like a surreal yet winning combination.


But first-time writer-director Mitu Misra's seems to have bitten off more than he can chew with this drama exploring arranged marriages in a Muslim community.


Byrne plays the driver of a US billionaire (Keitel) who, following his death, is instructed by his former employer to erase all signs of his mistress Amber (Sibylla Deen).


In the process, he gets drawn into a life-and-death showdown with her gangster ex-husband and cousin (Jan Uddin).


Byrne and Deen give decent performances in what's a plodding and predictable tale, full of cliched characters, and it fails to shed any new or insightful light on the practice of arranged marriages.


With such an impressive cast, a wasted opportunity all round.




Den of Thieves (15)
Directed by Christian Gudegast


NICK O’BRIEN smokes. His tattoos resemble a trendy fabric design. He’s hard-drinking, unfailingly foul-mouthed and shoots to kill.


But don’t be fooled.


This hard-arsed character, played by Gerald Butler, is a cop leading an elite LA police unit against a no-holds-barred gang of former military men planning the ultimate heist — robbing the Federal Reserve Bank.


O'Brien assures his team that they're not the “bad guys” prior to one of the frequent outbursts of gunplay and violence propelling the story and he’s not kidding.


While the ending is never in doubt, co-writer and director Christian Gudegast drives this relentless blood-and-bullet saga fast enough to create little tedium and ensures that filmgoers seeking adrenalin-surging thrills rather than intellectual stimulation should get their money’s worth.




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