new releases

Ronin (15) 122 mins 1k wk

I'd swear this movie was made in the early 70s and 'shelved' until being given a belated release 25 years on - except for the overuse of cell-phones and Robert De Niro’s greying hair. The visual style, particularly those long range zooms check out the zoom away from a speeding car to a panoramic shot of a cityscape- is pure nostalgia (think Frankenheimer’s own French Connection II).

The story revolves around the efforts of a crack team of post-glasnost super-spies to steal a Pandora’s Box- like briefcase from the French for the Irish before it's sold to the Russians. As with other bygone caper movies (for example, The Day Of The Jackal), Ronin begins with a slow build-up during the team's planning, hiccups with a few glitches and then explodes into action when everything goes spectacularly wrong.

It’s a sign of the changing times that another post-Cold War film, Mission: Impossible, squeezes Ronin's plot into its opening sequence. With leaden pacing and uneven plotting, small details become distracting - a good and bad thing. A momentary cut to a close-up of some nifty hand-break control work, for example, lends a car chase

The spy in black: Robert De Niro in Ronin

the kind of authenticity that made Bullitt the king of high speed chase movies. But, for the most part, the distractions concern holes in the plot. The general lack of credibility of the proceedings is irritating; caper movies are supposed to be smart, but Ronin is not nearly as clever as it pretends to be - the fatuous explanation of the title at the beginning of the film makes the later, more poetic explication of this metaphor redundant.

Worse still, the whole affair unfolds with a total lack of irony, which becomes laughable and undermines the suspense. Still, the undercover posturings of the protagonists (all profile shots and flitting eye movements) are fun. The formidable cast - from Stellan Skarsgard’s techy nerd cum ice-cold killer through Sean Bean's loutish Brit mercenary to Natasha McElhone’s brash IRA soldier - must have had an easy time of it, filming on location in the South of France.

While the twist ending betrays - yet again - America’s egotistical positioning of itself as global police force, there’s a great soundtrack and De Niro looks every bit as good as James 'The Jackal' Fox in raincoat and beret, posing as a little old French man. (Miles Fielder)

! General release from Fri 20 Nov

Girls Town (15) 89 mins tr e a:

Is Lili Taylor the least ingratiating actress in American movies? In film after film, she seems to push herself up against the screen like a thug thumbing a nose at the security cameras. She’s been vampiric, harpyish and so full of ambition she’d kill for a chance of fame, but what’s great about Taylor is that she extracts from the viewer an ambivalent response: our judgements are our own, and Taylor's JUSI being true to the instincts of her character.

'Human life Just doesn't interest Hollywood,’ the actress has said, which may be why Girls Town - about three high school girls coming to terms with their best friend's suicide - is a raw independent feature based on improwsation. Jim McKay's film opens wrth slow-motion girl power, as the leading characters cross the screen; but the soundtrack, barely comprehensible, seems to tell a different stOry. It turns but the dead friend was raped. The three buddies (Taylor, Bruklin Harris, Anna Grace) put attitude asrde for five minutes to discuss their own

; vulnerabilities.

Lucky in cards, unlucky in love: Matt Damon and Edward Norton in Rounders

woman, btit it's also getting him deeper into a deadly debt with the Russians.

Rounders is a boys' movie not Simply because it’s about playing cards, btit because it has a fascmation wrth how things work Dahl lifts the poker world's hood and takes its engine apart. That, in itself, is either a recommendation or a warning, as indiVidual Viewers \Nlll enjoy the mowe depending on how much they are Willing to indulge in the sliowrng as much as the telling,

Some might find Damon too clean- cut for his character's background (and the good bOy/bad boy appeal is rather similar to Good Will Hunting), while

Rounders (15) 118 mins “it st e “5?

Although he promised his girlfriend that he’d given up cards to concentrate on his law degree, Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) can't resist the lure of one big game. Poker is in his blood and, as he goes round his apartment taking rolls of cash from hidden corners, he’s like an alcoholic checking his secret stash of booze.

When Mike loses all his tumon money

34 THE UST l9 Nov—3 Dec 1998

to Teddy KGB (John Malkovrch) in an illegal Russian mafia gambling den, his dream of making enough of a stake to play World Series Poker in Las Vegas seems to have gone forever. However, he is seduced back into the game by Worm (Edward Norton), recently released from prison. The problem is that Worm is a 'mechanic’ a poker genius who can't help cheating and using tricks to win the pot. Mike's loyalty to his life-long friend will almost certainly lose him the love of his

talkovich’s ’reed-eek-yu-Ioz‘ Russian accent undermines the menace (intellectual and rii.'ifia-irispired) bOund Within the performance. Norton, however -- Oscar-nominated a few years back for Primal Fear -- proves why he is fast-becoming the stand-out character actor of his generation, conveying Worm’s psychology as partly self-destructive, wholly self-aware It will never seem like a simple game of cards again. (Alan Morrison)

a: General release from Fri 20 Nov

There’s a lot here that’s contrived. The friends' awareness of the rape comes through the dead girl’s diary, while the conversations seem too readily like an encounter group. Can these girls really be such strangers to each other? But there is in McKay’s intimate yet inscrutable direction and in the performances of the actresses, who co- wrote the script ~ something more distinctive.

It rests in viewing lives through an observant style ~ a style which looks for the truth of a given moment over the harried needs of plot. That it lacks the insight or freshness of any number of recent French films in a Similar vein shouldn't be held against it. American independent Cinema (never mind Hollywood) has been so out of touch With realism recently that there’s an understandable rustiness to the aesthetic. Girls Town is a move in the right direction (Tony McKibbin)

e! Edinburgh Film/rouse from Fri 20 Nov

Female intuition: lili Taylor in Girls Town

3‘ 3. s 2‘ t

STAR RATINGS w iv 1% 4: Unmissable e e a: it Very good it r at Worth a shot it it Below average it You‘ve been warned