Movies to watch this week at the cinema: Sicario, The Walk, more…

Out on Friday 9 October

Denis Villeneuve returns with a masterpiece. Joseph Gordon-Levitt walks the line. Rodney Ascher delivers the film of your dreams if you suffer from sleep paralysis, that is. Yes, heres this weeks new releases. Click on for our reviews of Sicario, The Walk, Beasts Of No Nation, The Nightmare, Regression, Leading Lady, Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story, I Believe In Miracles, A Haunting In Cawdor, Addicted To Fresno, Well Never Have Paris and Red Army. For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film (opens in new tab).


The motif to which Denis Villeneuves ferocious cartel thriller keeps returning may seem inconsequential. But Villeneuve ((Prisoners, (Incendies) is not that kind of director, and this is not that kind of film. In the afternoon heat, dust motes dance in front of the camera lens, a beautiful image to which he will come back. First time you see it, theres no time to ponder the deeper meanings because the next five minutes offer, simply, one of the most exciting action sequences youll see all year. Were in Chandler (read: Shitsville), Arizona, as a SWAT team surrounds a nondescript bungalow. Even before the credits begin, Jhann Jhannssons heart-in-mouth electronic score pulses oppressively. Here, for the first time, we cut to those motes, swirling in a darkened living room, until BOOM! the walls explode, and Kidnap Response Unit agents Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya from Psychoville, another Brit abroad), and their colleagues storm the building. We wont spoil what happens next, but suffice to say its memorably traumatic, swathed in shellshocked screams and choking sand: another kind of dust. Macer barely has time to wash the blood out of her hair before shes paraded in front of a cabal of Y-chromosome-heavy officials including undercover operative Matt (Josh Brolin), dress-down dismissive in flip-flops. The Mexican drug cartels are encroaching into Arizona, were told, before the sort of sexist interrogation Clarice Starling had to endure: Married? No. Kids? No. Anything else? Macer, needless to say, volunteers to join the fight back. Her mission? In Matts words: To overreact dramatically. Watching what follows, youll know exactly how that feels… Strangely, for a film more likely to waste innocent bystanders than time, Macers first assignment with Matt and his mysterious cohort Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) an over-the-border raid to kidnap a cartel leader serves very little narrative purpose, or could at least be elided in montage. But Taylor Sheridans action-heavy, exposition-light script is smarter than that, and the effect of this sequence is threefold. Firstly, it illustrates the vastness of the drugs trade and the dangers of trying to dismantle it. Secondly, it puts us, like Macer, out on the frontline. But most of all its polygraph-test tense. Set to the bass drone of a distant air strike, or a stomach turning over, five black government vehicles rip through battle-ravaged bandit country expecting ambushes at every corpse-draped corner. For 15 minutes, nothing happens, but all that time spent sitting on your hands means that, when violence flares on a crowded border road, the anxiety levels are unbearable. The resulting carnage, sneers Matt, wont even make the papers in El Paso. But theres a subtle significance even in the shots of endless cars trying to cross into America from above they look like dust particles, too. It is, without doubt, one of the greatest traffic jams ever committed to celluloid, right up there with Fellinis 8 and Joel Schumachers Falling Down. And while the film never quite tops it, each of the set-pieces that follow a neon-strafed night mission; a vicious motel room mano-amano; all kinds of car chases and casual torture contains enough character to keep them compelling. Tough but brittle, Blunt would make a great Sarah Connor, but Macer isnt really the centre of this story (which wouldnt pass the Bechdel test). Brolin and Del Toros world-weary charisma speaks of once-decent men capable of terrible things, and breakout star Kaluuyas welcome warmth makes his sidekick cherishable rather than disposable. But Villeneuve and Sheridan want to show more than just the American side, giving us glimpses into the home life of Mexican cop Silvio (Maximiliano Hernndez), whos granted a domesticity the other characters lack. The reason for these cutaways isnt immediately clear, but theres a clue in the cigarette boxes piled next to Silvios bed: Indian Creek, the same (illegally imported?) brand Macer smokes. Youre asking me how a watch works, says Matt when Macer asks for an overview of the conflict. For now lets just keep our eyes on the time. Silvio, it will transpire, is just another cog in the same sprawling machine. Taken at face value, Sicario (Spanish for hitman) fires on just about every level, from Jhannssons supple score to Roger Deakins desert-scorched cinematography to Sheridans pared-to-the-bone script. But Villeneuves also trying to show us something more ambitious than gut-punch gunfights: that the fallout from the drugs trade is everywhere, the violence invisible, but endemic. Echoed over and over in the speckled snow of night-vision goggles, rockets fireworking the Mexican skies, the smoke of innumerable Indian Creek cigarettes those dust motes stand in for all the evils not easily seen, but spreading all the same. THE VERDICT: Pulled from the news but punched up to fever pitch, Sicario represents the perfect mix of cerebral and visceral thrills. Star, director and screenwriter all bring their A-game. Director: Denis Villeneuve Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Jon Bernthal Theatrical release: 8 October 2015 Matt Glasby


Why do you walk on the wire? Pourquoi? asks high-wire walker Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), direct to camera in the opening moments of The Walk. Its a question audiences may want to ask director Robert Zemeckis, whose colourful but unsteady drama tells the tale of Petits 1974 tightrope walk between the World Trade Centers towers. Thanks to Oscar-winning 2008 documentary Man On Wire, that storys still fresh in the memory, and though Zemeckis started work on The Walk before James Marshs doc hit, releasing his film in its wake comes with a nagging sense of dj vu. Still, Zemeckis certainly strives to put his stamp on Petits story, bringing to bear his flair for FX (Roger Rabbit, Polar Express et al). Utilising 3D IMAX to its vertiginous limit, he puts you right up there with Petit during The Walks superior second hour, trembling alongside the man himself on a 450lb steel cable. Petits backstory is similarly shot with an eye on spectacle. We meet him working as a Paris street performer, where he falls for busker Annie Allix (Charlotte Le Bon, channelling Winona Ryder) and goes on to be mentored by Ben Kingsleys Czech circus trainer. When he comes across a picture of the Twin Towers, Petit decides fate is steering him toward his destiny. Theres eye candy aplenty in The Walks black-and-white opening, with its beautiful, Spielbergian flourishes of colour, and the 3D is immersive instead of obtrusive, drawing us into Petits world. If the visuals score high, though, the rest of Zemeckis film struggles to get off the ground. With shorn hair and CGId blue peepers, Gordon-Levitt confidently captures Petits buzzing eccentricities, even if his French accent occasionally slips into Allo Allo! clich. But he cant save a clunky device that sees him narrate the story from the Statue Of Liberty, which only bleeds the films central set-piece of tension. For all its obvious ambition, Zemeckis film suffers most for being too broad in scope. Its backstory-heavy first hour (drawn from Petits autobiography To Reach The Clouds) is overly twee, and the pace only picks up when, halfway through, The Walk transforms into an engaging heist movie as Petit and his co-conspirators infiltrate the Twin Towers. To walk on the wire, he says, this is life. Its just a shame Zemeckis shows so much of Petits life, when all that really matters is what happens on the wire. THE VERDICT: A patchy biopic that only thrills when Gordon-Levitt finally steps out onto the wire. Still, for all the 3D showboating, its a touching tribute to the Twin Towers. Director: Robert Zemeckis Starring: Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Steve ValentineTheatrical release: 9 October 2015 Josh Winning


Netflixs first foray into feature film distribution is no easy sell: a lengthy, bloody chronicle of one child soldiers dehumanisation, shot in Ghana with only one star name propping up a cast of novices and unknowns. Kudos to Cary Joji Fukunaga, then, for turning a 2005 novel by Uzodinma Iweala into such a stirring and forceful drama one that not only alerts us to a plight suffered by up to half a million children around the world, but also to the strength and resilience that allow the fortunate few to survive it. Our hero is Agu (Abraham Attah), a happy urchin whose carefree childhood in an unnamed African country is shattered by a civil war that deprives him of his mother, teacher father and beloved older brother. Taking refuge in the jungle from his nations savage armed forces, he falls in with an even more brutal rebel militia led by the charismatic Commandant (Idris Elba): a man who demands unwavering loyalty from his ragtag legion and who swiftly indoctrinates Agu in its kill-or-be-killed philosophy. Obliged to play Oliver to this diabolical Fagin, Agu soon learns to hack, shoot and slaughter, winning not only the respect of his manipulative mentor but also the friendship of one of his fellow recruits (a mute yet expressive Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye). With each fresh trauma, though, a little less soul remains, something Attah poignantly conveys even as Agu devolves into a stone-faced, battle-scarred automaton. Elba, for his part, is fiercely compelling in a role that could almost be the demonic flipside to the benign leader he played in Mandela, especially in later scenes that see the Commandant rebel against his supreme commander (Jude Akuwudike) and take off on his own like some latter-day Colonel Kurtz. It could be argued, however, that Fukunaga makes his job easier by downplaying the sexual abuse of his charges that was explicit in Iwealas original: an odd bit of censorship in a film that has no qualms about showing its other lead cleaving a defenceless man to pieces or blowing a womans brains out mid-rape. Such scenes pack a knockout punch made all the more visceral by Fukunagas own handheld camerawork, the Sin Nombre director placing us right in the crosshairs of a conflict that we, like Agu, can only vaguely comprehend. We may not end up with his PTSD, but we certainly emerge both battered and chastened. THE VERDICT: Part war story, part endurance test, this harrowing portrait of a young boys loss of innocence is gripping, gruelling, grown-up fare. That said, some judicious trimming wouldnt have hurt. Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga Starring: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Jude Akuwudike, Richard Pepple, Opeyemi Fagbohungbe Theatrical release: 9 October 2015 Neil Smith


Sleep paralysis is among the most terrifying things the human mind can do to itself. Trapped between waking and sleeping, sufferers endure hallucinations so vivid theyre closer to near-death experiences than dreams. The phenomenon inspired Nightmare On Elm Streets ingenious MO, and its imagery can be seen everywhere from Insidious to Natural Born Killers. If youve ever experienced it, youll be relieved to see youre not alone. If you havent, well, youll just be relieved. Documentary director/editor Rodney Ascher has suffered sleep paralysis himself, and The Nightmare does something similar to Room 237, his stylised dissertation on The Shining, telling us as much about the subjects as it does the subject. The film introduces eight sufferers from around the world who share their stories straight to camera, then it brings their haunting visions to life in alarming re-enactments. Whats striking about these unrelated people is the communality of their visions: each describes being stalked by shadow men, whether aliens, old hags, or succubi; nobody seeks professional help for fear of being considered mentally ill; and most seem damaged to begin with, whether by familial abuse or drugs. Its not monsters were dealing with, Ascher seems to be saying, but a misunderstood human reaction to trauma, hence the singular Nightmare. Re-enactments, by their nature, compromise editorial objectivity even as they draw us in. While Aschers conjure all kinds of creepy moments, hes keen to remind us that what were watching is a construct, which makes for uneven viewing. One gorgeous camera movement sweeps through a set in which numerous shadow men haunt numerous sleeping children, like footage from the Blumhouse backlot. Cheesy chapter headings and cheap jump-scares dont help, but this artful, experiential doc has an honourable aim: to make us feel what the subjects do, then pull back, so we know its not real. If only they were so lucky. THE VERDICT: Aschers sincere, spooky study cant decide whether to document or dramatise, but its an absorbing glimpse into the dark corners of the psyche. Director: Rodney Ascher Starring: Siegfried Peters, Yatoya Toy, Nicole Bosworth, Stephen Michael Joseph, Elise Robson Theatrical release: 9 October 2015 Matt Glasby


A sequel of sorts to The Damned United, this lovingly assembled soccer doc recounts what Brian Clough did next: join Notts Forest and lead them to promotion, the first division title and back-to-back european cups. catching up with the players, director Jonny Owen (Svengali) embellishes their heroics with nifty editing, choice music and cheeky interpolations a reference to the Alamo, for instance, prompts a snippet of footage from John Waynes 1960 film. Moustaches, mullets and muddy pitches abound in a feelgood nostalgia-fest from a time when football really was a beautiful game. Director: Jonny Owen Theatrical release: 9 October 2015 Neil Smith


Alejandro Amenabar returns to the Gothic horror territory of The Others in this 1990s-set paranoia-fest, which puts Minnesota detective Ethan Hawke on the trail of a secret sect of Satan worshippers who have ear-marked Emma Watson as their next demonic sacrifice. Using David Thewlis shrink to coax repressed memories from witnesses, Hawkes sceptic is soon convinced the devil walks among us which should make for a far creepier yarn than the tepid hogwash spewed up here. Watson, for her part, seems to have taken acting tips from a sadface emoji. Director: Alejandro Amenabar Starring: Emma Watson, David Thewlis, Ethan Hawke, David Dencik, Devon Bostick, Dale Dickey, Lothaire Bluteau Theatrical release: 9 October 2015 Neil Smith


Katie McGrath cant get a break. After her dino-snack fate in Jurassic World, she plays a doormat defined by her lovers in Henk Pretorius culture-clash romcom. A downhearted British teacher, McGraths Jodi visits South Africa to research a role in a romance directed by her sleazy boyfriend there, she falls for the local farming folks eccentricities. Shes a blank slate who saps the film of the charm needed to salvage its sub-Richard Curtis quirk-com hooey, montages and incessant score. As for the mute black maid: some clichs are unsalvageable. Director: Henk Pretorious Starring: Katie McGarth, Gil Bellows Theatrical release: 9 October 2015 Kevin Harley


Mark Pollocks story is one of those that would sound ridiculously contrived were it the subject of a work of fiction. Having lost his sight in his early twenties, he became a keen practitioner of physically demanding sports, only to then suffer an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. His extraordinary resilience to cope with his disabilities and touching relationship with his girlfriend make for a typically rousing documentary (its easy to forget during his intensive physiotherapy sessions that he is also completely blind), and there is also some interesting insight on scientific research into potential cures for paralysis. Director: Ross Whitaker Starring: Mark Pollock, Simone GeorgeTheatrical release: 9 October 2015 Stephen Puddicombe


At a remote probation camp isolated from the rest of the world, a group of juvenile offenders are made to serve the rest of their jail sentences putting on a production of cursed play Macbeth, in a spooky theatre that goes bump in the night. What could possibly go wrong? As a disturbed young woman dangerously obsessed with on-stage paranormal activity, protagonist Vivian (Shelby Young) may evoke memories of Natalie Portman in Black Swan or Suspirias Jessica harper. But shes a comparatively underwritten character, failing to convince as a trauma victim. Director: Phil Wurtzel Starring: Carey Elwes, Shelby Young Theatrical release: 9 October 2015 Stephen Puddicombe


Natasha Lyonne and Judy Greer have spent enough films in thankless supporting roles for us to welcome one in which they co-headline. Alas, even they cant redeem this story of hotel-cleaning sisters one a lovelorn lesbian, the other a sex addict who find themselves saddled with a corpse in need of disposal. Laboured hi-jinks involving a pet cemetery, a bar mitzvah and a stash of stolen dildos waste a starry cast that includes Portlandias Fred Armisen, Fargos Allison Tolman and Aubrey Plaza from Parks And Recreation. Watching any of those shows would constitute a better use of your time. Director: Jamie Babbit Starring: Judy Greer, Natasha Lyonne Theatrical release: 9 October 2015 Neil Smith


Best known as bowl-haired engineer Howard Wolowitz from sitcom The Big Bang Theory, Simon Helberg makes his directorial debut with this amiable rom-dram-com, co-helming with wife Jocelyn Towne. He plays Quinn, a neurotic New Yorker in the Woody Allen mould whos caught between childhood sweetheart Devon (Melanie Lynskey) and colleague Kelsey (Maggie Grace). True, its not the most original set-up, but seasoned with Helbergs angsty charm and co-star Zachary Quintos outrageous wardrobe, it still feels fresh and fun. Directors: Simon Helberg, Jocelyn Towne Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Geoffrey Cantor Theatrical release: 9 October 2015 James Mottram


If the best sports movies are bigger than sport but just as thrilling, Gabe Polskys wry, dry and searching study of Soviet Russias leading 70s/80s ice hockey powerhouses fits the bill. With crack access to complex, charismatic team leader Slava Fetisov and his fab five on ice, Polsky explores how the game saved players from poverty, then became a near-prison. A KGB despot oversaw militaristic training; players were propaganda tools; Russia wouldnt release them. With the tone veering between puck-ish and poignant, Polsky drives home a wicked slap-shot of Cold War sports history. Director: Gaby Polsky Theatrical release: 9 October 2015 Kevin Harley

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