Film reviews: Gangster Squad | The Hobbit | Jack Reacher | Life of Pi | Les Miserables | What Richard Did

Jack Reacher is on general release
Jack Reacher is on general release
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PASTICHE trumps tension in this period crime flick from Zombieland director Rubin Fleischer.

Playing like a comic-book version of LA Confidential, it’s difficult to work out how seriously we’re supposed to take this story of an off-the-books squad of untouchable cops who wilfully suspend habeas corpus in order to put Los Angeles crime lord Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) out of business. An A-list cast – Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin – playing dress-up in period garb while conversing solely in clichés suggests it’s going for a tongue-in-cheek send-up, but the levels of violence and sheer amount of money that’s been spent recreating the era is indicative of a film that’s aspiring towards some kind of legitimacy as a serious gangster epic. Either way, it’s fairly rubbish.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12A) **

This first instalment of Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s slender single volume children’s adventure can’t help but seem like a self-indulgent folly. Boasting the same epic treatment that Jackson brought to bear on his mammoth adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy a decade ago, An Unexpected Journey barely gets going as a mythological quest, despite a running time of nearly three hours. Instead it spends aeons setting up characters and plots in needlessly intricate detail and loses focus on both the story at hand and, more worryingly, its hobbit hero, Bilbo Baggins. That’s a shame, because while Martin Freeman is perfect, the character isn’t very present and it takes a late appearance from Andy Serkis’s still-magnificent Gollum to remind us of how magical this could be.

Jack Reacher (12A) ****

Tom Cruise isn’t the most obvious choice to play the 6ft 5in, built-like-an-oak-tree hero of American-based British thriller writer Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. But the smartest thing the film’s writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has done in lieu of having an actor who matches Reacher’s physical description is capitalise on Cruise’s ineffable movie star quality, and the result is the actor’s best performance since Collateral.

Life Of Pi (Pg) ***

Though bookended by a dreary framing device that spells out the film’s meaning in needlessly idiot-proof fashion, Ang Lee’s handling of Yann Martel’s central fable about an Indian boy adrift at sea with only a Bengal tiger for company is a reminder of how cinema can sometimes work wonders on material previously thought unfilmable. Indeed, for large chunks of Life of Pi, Lee makes the fantastical plight of its titular hero (played as a teenager by Suraj Sharma) so compelling and strange and bewildering and beautiful that his insistence on forcing us to question its literal meanings has a habit of making the film seem less special.

Les Misérables (12A) **

Bombastic, overblown, overlong, needlessly convoluted and full of simplistic characters, some terrible performances and a constant, cochlea-cracking racket on the soundtrack, the multi-Oscar-nominated juggernaut arrives in all its baffling glory – like the musical equivalent of a Transformers movie. Les Mis fans may well eat it up, but the tuneless orchestration, patchy live singing and the relentless hand-held close-ups of the cast prove pretty gruelling, with only Anne Hathaway’s show-stopping performance of I Dreamed a Dream coming close to tapping into the lost art of the movie musical. Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried co-star.

What Richard Did (15) ****

Bleak but compelling drama about a privileged teenager who is suddenly forced to confront the consequences of a momentary loss of control that leaves another teenager dead. Director Lenny Abrahamson (Adam & Paul) uses the middle-class background of his title character (played by up-and-comer Jack Reynor) as the grounds for classic tragedy, then strips away dramatic artifice to put us inside his head to give a sense of the moral quandaries with which he’s suddenly dealing.