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Film round-up: September 10

ALAN FRANK and MARIA DUARTE review American Animals, Hurricane, Puzzle and The Nun

American Animals (15)
Directed by Bart Layton
★★★★

WHILE the title suggests a Disneyesque documentary, writer-director Bart Layton’s singular crime caper — a true story — is far from family-oriented. It tells the extraordinary tale of four apparently unremarkable American friends who execute one of the most audacious heists in US history.

When conventional Kentuckian Spencer (Barry Keoghan) learns of his college’s incredibly valuable book collection, he and his wayward friends Warren, Erik and Chas (Evan Peters, James Abrahamson and Blake Jenner) seek fame by robbing the collection.

The immoral quartet invade the library and steal irreplaceable books, dropping the priceless first edition of Audubon’s Birds of America as they do so, before making their escape.

So far, so Tarantinoesque, notably the robbers’ sadistic attack on middle-aged librarian Betty Ann, convincingly played by Ann Dowd.

Fortunately, Layton is no Tarantino. For a start, the actors make the characters genuinely believable and, fascinatingly, he punctuates the narrative with interviews with the real-life robbers who ultimately ended up in jail.

At times, I’d have preferred motivations to keep pace with the narrative, but the changing impulses for the quartet's actions are most of the time persuasive.

Alan Frank

Hurricane (15)
Directed by David Blair

★★★

WHILE some hark on about putting the Great back into Great Britain, this is a timely reminder and homage to the scores of Polish fighter pilots who helped keep Britain safe from a nazi invasion during the second world war.

Hurricane tells of the incredible exploits of 303 Squadron, made up of 145 Polish pilots who flew for the RAF. It was the highest-scoring fighter squadron in the Battle of Britain and shot down more than 200 German aircraft.

The action is seen through the eyes of ace pilot Jan Zumbach (Iwan Rheon) and via flashbacks you learn the horrendous ordeal he and his men underwent at the hands of the nazis, what they lost, and why they were determined to fight for freedom alongside the British.

Directed by David Blair, this powerful and gripping war drama is brought to life by some nifty fighting sequences and it features one of the last operating Hurricanes in existence.

Maybe the film will go some way towards reminding the British public how much they owe these unsung heroes.

Maria Duarte

Puzzle (15)
Directed by Mark Turtletaub

★★★★

ON THE surface, forty-something suburban US wife and mother Agnes (unforgettably played by Kelly MacDonald), resembles a TV soap-opera character trapped in a cycle of housework and parenthood.

But Agnes is different. She possesses a talent for assembling jigsaw puzzles and, after visiting New York to buy a new puzzle, answers a text from someone seeking a partner for a puzzle tournament in Atlantic City. Dubious at first, she agrees to partner the wealthy Robert (Bollywood star Irrfan Khan), and lies to her husband to cover her twice weekly absences from home.

Almost inevitably, but made credible by MacDonald in her unforgettable and deeply moving portrayal, her relationship with Robert becomes more serious.

What might be cliched comes across as truthful and deeply moving, thanks to director Mark Turtletaub’s perfect exposition and a spot-on supporting cast.

AF

The Nun (15)
Directed by Corin Hardy

★★★

THIRSTING for box-office blood, the makers of the Conjuring shockers change direction — well, sort of — with this brash spin-off.

A prequel to The Conjuring, it's set in a scary cloistered abbey in darkest Romania where, after a young nun hangs herself, a priest with a haunted past (Demian Bircher) and a novitiate nun (Taissa Farmiga) are sent to investigate.

Cue a tsunami of broad Hammer film-style shocks and scares as the investigators face the forces of hell itself, headed by the demonic nun — who first spread death and destruction in The Conjuring 2 — while they fight to save their faith, their lives and their souls.

To give director Corin Hardy and screenwriters Gary Dauberman and James Wan their due, they deliver enough special-effect-driven shocks to satisfy genre fans, while another plus is the Romanian locations embellishing the all-too-familiar horror-film tropes on offer.

AF

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