Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Michael Peña) are partners and friends who incur the wrath of a Mexican drug cartel when they bust a mule during a routine stop-and-search. Writer-director David Ayer is as interested in the minutiae of the pair’s daily life as he is in the tropes of the buddy-buddy cop movie. Brian’s hand-held camera — he films his days for a college course — allows for greater intimacy with the pair as they drive around the mean streets chewing the fat about their lives and relationships. So the audience emotionally bonds with them. These apparently mundane stretches give the action sequences a sharpened edge, as life-or-death situations suddenly explode. It’s a powerful blend, even if the drug cartel story is a threadbare link to the personal segments. Gyllenhaal and Peña have chemistry and create likeable, but plausibly tarnished characters who tread a very thin blue line.
Released from a mental institution, history teacher, Pat (Bradley Cooper), moves back to Philadelphia to live with his parents, Pat Snr (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver) in Silver Linings Playbook (15A). Determined to reconcile with his ex-wife, whose lover he beat to a pulp when he discovered them in flagrante, Pat employs his best friend’s sister-in-law, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), as a go-between. Tiffany agrees, if Pat will become her dance partner for a contest. Seasoned romantic comedy viewers will anticipate the story. David O Russell’s movie takes the scenic route, offering interesting characters: the self-deluding Pat is eloquently played by Cooper, while his football-loving, obsessive-compulsive father, Pat Snr, finds De Niro turning in his best role in years. Jennifer Lawrence steals the show as the quirky Tiffany, a woman struggling with the expectations of how a young, beautiful widow should behave. Some of the minor characters are irritating — Chris Tucker as a former inmate friend of Pat’s — and there’s an inevitability to the story that undermines its interesting elements, but this is a solid, intriguing and blackly funny romantic comedy.
A heist movie set in the world of modern art, written by the Coen Brothers, should be a recipe for absurd hilarity, but Gambit (12A) feels like a ham-fisted copy of a Coen original. London-based art curator Harry Deane (Colin Firth) sets out to con his obnoxious boss, Lionel Shahbnadar (Alan Rickman), by ‘locating’ a rare Monet in a Texas trailer-park and setting up rodeo rider, PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz), as its unwitting owner. Will Lionel take the bait and part with £12m? The animated Pink Panther-esque opening titles suggest that we’re in for an homage to the genteel heist movies of the 1960s, but Michael Hoffman’s film is so flat, unfunny and heavy-handed that you’re tempted to believe it’s simply a half-sketched first draft. Rickman is ridiculous as the extravagantly wealthy Lionel, but the main casting problem is that the stiffly self-conscious Firth and the irrepressibly sunny Diaz have no chemistry whatsoever. Meanwhile, the plot, which you might reasonably expect to contain a twist or three, is arrow-straight and utterly devoid of the kind of guile any self-respecting heist movie should revel in.
David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (PG, 1962) is 50 years young this year, an anniversary celebrated by the release of a new digital print from the original 70mm negative. Peter O’Toole starred in a career-making turn as the eponymous hero, who led an Arab guerrilla army against the Turks during WWI. A three-and-a-half hour masterpiece co-starring Omar Sharif, Jack Hawkins, Alec Guinness, Claude Rains and Anthony Quinn, it’s a sumptuous visual feast that makes the most of the shimmering bleakness of its desert landscape, the fabulous action sequences as Lawrence leads camel charges and raids on trains, and — not to be overlooked — the hypnotic power of O’Toole’s impossibly blue eyes.