Two jingoistic sequels reduced Vietnam War veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) to an indestructible cartoon figure, but this first film in the series is an involving action drama about an ostracised loner pushed too far. Brian Dennehy is on fine snarling form as a bigoted small-town sheriff, the catalyst for a woodland cat-and-mouse chase in which his battle-hardened quarry quickly assumes the feline role. The warfare is tautly assembled by director Ted Kotcheff and Stallone portrays Rambo with enough wounded conviction to forgive some of his increasingly far-fetched escapes. It’s a shame that Richard Crenna, as Rambo’s revered colonel, is little more than a know-all caricature and that the film’s initial message about the lack of understanding bestowed on returning soldiers becomes lost among the trail of destruction. Yet there is a thread of humanity here that went missing in action during his later missions.
There are echoes of Jack Black’s The School of Rock in this comedy from The Full Monty director Peter Cattaneo. Rainn Wilson stars as Fish, a washed-up drummer who joins his teenage nephew’s band, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Fish’s preference for drumming naked creates an internet sensation and ADD become an overnight success, but they fall foul of a fast-talking music exec (an amusing Jason Sudeikis). Fortunately, what the film lacks in originality it makes up for in charm and off-the-wall humour. And Wilson easily graduates from comedy sidekick (in the US version ofThe Office) to carry this film with a winning blend of dry cynicism and childish exuberance. The balance of gags and heartfelt moments is ably handled by Cattaneo, and there’s a sweet romantic subplot involving Fish and the former rocker mother of one his bandmates (played by Christina Applegate).
Veteran director Sidney Lumet is once again on familiar territory with this New York-set thriller that takes its title from an old Irish toast – “May you be in heaven half an hour before The Devil knows you’re dead”. It’s an effective blend of crime flick and family melodrama that features a pair of finely judged performances from its leads. Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) play the brothers afflicted by financial, relationship and substance abuse problems. Increasingly desperate, they come up with a scheme to rob the family jewellery store. But their criminal enterprise is a disaster that ends in violence and soon the net of retribution closes in, both in the form of the police and their dad (a wildly overacting Albert Finney). Hoffman is predictably excellent as a son full of fury at his father, which he hides beneath a smooth, diffident exterior; but equally impressive is Hawke as the younger sibling, a boy/man so terrified he seems to be permanently on the verge of tears. Like most melodrama, it’s on the wrong side of subtle, but this is top quality stuff that maintains the director’s sterling reputation.