dir Ken Loach; with Mark Womack, Andrea Lowe 10/UK ***
After the relative whimsy of Looking for Eric, Loach is back in angry political mode for this gritty revenge thriller set around the war in Iraq. The story centres on Fergus (Womack), an ex-SAS officer who's trying to find out what happened to his best friend, who died on Route Irish, the road between Baghdad airport and the Green Zone. But Fergus is such a hothead that it's a wonder he has ever managed to do anything in his life. And his friend's widow (Lowe) also operates on pure emotion. The film starts out extremely well, but gets rather overwrought in the final act, when the script starts piling on clunky plot points. Still, it's nice to see a film about the conflict that centres on the human cost, especially the innocent Iraqis who have been caught in the crossfire.
dir Pablo Trapero; with Ricardo Darin, Martina Gusman 10/Arg ***
Bold and muscular filmmaking lifts this noir-style thriller above the murky nastiness of its storyline. And even though everyone's a little too morally compromised, the cast and crew give us plenty to chew on. The plot centres on a corrupt syndicate of lawyers, policemen, doctors and judges who are all out to defraud the insurance system (and the real victims) of anything they can get. It's a pretty nasty scenario, and we're thrown into it through gritty, saturated filmmaking that immerses us in this world through the eyes of one lawyer (Darin) and one doctor (Gusman) who are trying to keep their hands clean. Fat chance.
dir Thomas Vinterberg; with Jakob Cedergren, Peter Plaugborg 10/Den ****
Grim almost to the point of despair, this is like a Danish version of Requiem for a Dream, except that there's a tiny spark of hope deep inside it. And it's filmed and performed with raw honesty by the cast and crew. The two-part plot centres on two brothers separated by the circumstances of their life and both going through harrowing situations beyond what they can bear. It's quite painful to watch them flail to survive when their decisions contribute nothing but pain and tragedy. But there's a refreshingly mordant vein of humour running through the whole film, and the actors are remarkably sympathetic even when they're not very likeable.