What promises to play out as a polemical docudrama along the lines of Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000), however, becomes a gripping, provocative thriller when Emily defies Jonathan’s prognosis and commits a murder. Are the drugs responsible? Is Jonathan culpable for his misdiagnosis? Or is something a little more sinister at work? Scott Burns’ screenplay offers plenty of twists and turns that play with the audience’s expectations of a Hollywood thriller, and Soderbergh’s direction is so deftly assured that the blend of thought-provoking subject matter and pot-boiler treatment appears seamless. Catherine Zeta-Jones just about stops short of twirling a moustache in her arch-villain turn, Channing Tatum, underplays his rogue Wall Street trader role, and Rooney Mara is deliciously ambiguous as a potential femme fatale. Jude Law is superb, turning in one of the best performances of his career as the smug, self-absorbed shrink. All told, Side Effects is a powerful, thought-provoking thriller.
Oz the Great and Powerful (PG) is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz (1939), in which circus magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is whirled away by a tornado from a black-and-white Kansas and set down in the fabulously colourful land of Oz. There he encounters the witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), who tells him that he has arrived to fulfil the prophecy and set free the people of Oz from witch Evanora (Rachel Weisz). The flaky Oscar’s habit of wooing the most beautiful woman in his orbit kindles Theodora’s wrath when he falls for the good witch Glinda (Michelle Williams). Director Sam Raimi treads a fine line in remaining true to the 1939 version of Oz and still offering a fresh, persuasive origins tale, and he is for the most part successful. The allows for plenty of in-jokes for fans of the original movie. James Franco lacks the charisma to convincingly carry off the part of the wizard-in-waiting. He has the misfortune to play most of his early scenes against the eye-poppingly beautiful Mila Kunis, who comprehensively steals the show.
Based on Mark O’Rowe’s screenplay, and directed with understated style by Rufus Norris, Broken (15A) opens up with 12-year-old Londoner Skunk (Eloise Laurence) witnessing a brutal assault on her neighbour, Rick (Robert Emms). The incident is the first in a series that erode Skunk’s innocence over the course of one summer, as the repercussions of the violence spread out to involve her father, Archie (Tim Roth), her au pair Kasia (Zana Marjanovic), and Kasia’s boyfriend Mike (Cillian Murphy). Laurence turns in a lively performance as the delightfully anarchic 12-year-old who is both intrigued and appalled by adult behaviour, but while there are blackly comic moments, there are also serious themes as Norris shows us the dark undercurrents of suburbia. The film refuses to shy away from unpalatable truths as it builds towards a heartbreaking climax.
Set in the very near future, Robot and Frank (12A) stars Frank Langella as an ageing burglar who is beginning to suffer from memory loss. Forced by his son to live with a despised robot health-care aide (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), Frank realises that he can turn his new housemate into an unwitting accomplice — but Frank reckons without the robot’s artificial intelligence. Jake Schreier’s feature-length debut is directed with considerable warmth and humour, although there are poignant moments too, particularly when Frank begins to confuse the child-sized robot with his estranged son, Hunter (James Marsden). And then there’s the philosophy: can a robot be guilty of human crimes, especially when he fully understands that he is breaking human laws? Susan Sarandon, Jeremy Sisto and Liv Tyler flesh out a strong support cast, but ultimately this is Langella’s film, and he is in marvellous form as the crusty, irreverent Frank, who simply refuses to go quietly into that good night.