DRAMA NEDS (18) 123min ●●●●●

Never one to shirk a controversial subject, Peter Mullan follows up his attack on hypocrisy and abuse in the Catholic Church in The Magdalene Sisters. Casting a similarly caustic eye over the perennial problem of juvenile delinquency, Neds is evocatively set in Glasgow in the 1970s. Mullan’s argument is that society has to shoulder the blame, and for much of its length, Neds makes a compelling case for that argument After being menaced at the gates of his primary school by a snorkel-

jacketed figure, John McGill (Conor McCarron) is bruised and disillusioned by his experiences of education at the hands of Gary Lewis, Stephen McCole and David McKay, all drawing excellent comic pen- portraits of authority figures. Pinballing between school and the nebulous presence of his father (played by Mullan), John takes advantage of his brother’s notoriety and becomes a central figure in the gangland battles that take place nightly on the suburban streets.

As writer and director, Mullan works hard to subvert the clichés of youth-run-riot dramas such as The Football Factory, but over-reaches himself at several melodramatic key sequences, including one in which John hallucinates that a statue of Jesus has come down from the cross. Such lapses aside, Neds is a disturbing and deeply felt account of social betrayal. (Eddie Harrison) General release, Fri 21 Jan. See feature, page 14.


ALSO RELEASED Henry’s Crime (15) 110min ●●●●● Likeable heist thriller/romantic comedy starring Keanu Reeves as the wrongly imprisoned patsy who, with the help of inmate mentor James Caan and an actress (Vera Farmiga), finds his criminal calling. General release, out now. John Carpenter’s The Ward (15) 88min ●●●●● Execrable stalker horror starring Amber Heard and Jared Harris. Rumour has it that the great Carpenter hardly directed any of it, and just lent his name to it for profit. We really hope so. General release from Fri 21 Jan. Ride, Rise, Roar (12A) 87min ●●●●● Inventive David Byrne concert film. Selected release from Fri 21 Jan. The Dilemma (12A) 111min ●●●●● When best friends and business partners Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) try to land a dream project that will launch their design company, their friendship is tested by secrets and lies. Mediocre and unfunny bromance that wastes the talents involved including Winona Ryder and Jennifer Connolly. Ron Howard directs like a man distracted. General release from Fri 21 Jan. How Do You Know (12A) 120min ●●●●● Dreary and tedious romantic comedy centred on a love triangle between a softball player (Reese Witherspoon), an executive (Paul Rudd) and a partying major-league baseball pitcher (Owen Wilson). A rare misfire from writer/director James L Brooks. General release from Fri 28 Jan. The Mechanic (15) 92min ●●●●● Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is an elite assassin. When his mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland) is murdered, Bishop wants those responsible dead. Another lively action thriller featuring the ever-dependable Statham. General release from Fri 28 Jan.


Darren Aronofsky’s follow up to The Wrestler is a similarly intense and involving companion piece. Parallels can be drawn between the struggles of Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson at the end of his working life with the more immediate drama of Nina Sayers, a young ballet dancer at the start of her career. Like Sayers, Natalie Portman puts her body and soul into her role as an ingénue who wins the lead in a lavish production of Swan Lake.

Through Sayers’ eyes, Aronofsky presents the world of ballet as a snake pit, including slimy director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), malicious rival dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) and Nina’s mentally unstable predecessor Beth (Winona Ryder). With her shrill and hectoring mother (Barbara Hershey) providing little support, Sayers has to fight off both her real enemies and her growing neuroses to give the onstage performance of her life.

Few directors explore the darkness of a professional life better than Aronofsky, and with Black Swan he lets rip in audacious style, slow- burning through layers of accumulating tension to finally reach the kind of visceral, bloody shock conclusions best exemplified in the best work of David Cronenberg and Brian de Palma. As well as being a taut psychological backstage thriller, Black Swan is also a powerful drama about the strains of womanhood, with Portman coming of age as an actress with an accessible, vulnerable portrait of a girl on the edge of madness. The stresses of ballet might not sound like the stuff of thrilling cinema, but in Aronofsky’s capable hands, this Black Swan flies straight into the darkening storm. (Eddie Harrison) General release from Fri 21 Jan.

DRAMA/COMEDY GET LOW (PG) 103min ●●●●●

George W Bush aside, was there ever a greater master of malapropism than gifted American baseball player Yogi Berra? He once noted that: ‘You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.’ Around about the time Berra was picking up his first bat in the late 1930s, an old timer from Roane in the backwoods of Tennessee was organising his own ‘living funeral’. Or so the story goes.

It is to this wispy-haired tall tale that cinematographer Aaron Schneider turns for his serviceable but unsustained directorial debut. Returning to the Boo Radley role he played in his first outing for cinema in the 1962 version of To Kill a Mockingbird, Robert Duvall plays loner backwoodsman Felix Bush. Felix decides to stage a funeral while he is still alive to see who will turn up and what people will say about him. Undertaker Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) takes the job, but Felix’s belligerence becomes something else when old love Mattie (Sissy Spacek) resurfaces. Get Low is a cobwebby tale of second chances, redneck values, arrowroot and

blackened teeth. The performances are all fine and Schneider’s laid-back direction and slow burn storytelling suits this gentle tale. Ultimately however, the film is too thin, unsurprising and hokey. The final epiphany feels as squeezed as dead bait, Oscar bait. (Paul Dale) Selected release, Fri 21 Jan.

20 Jan–3 Feb 2011 THE LIST 43