Capsule reviews for Dec. 25


Some potentially provocative subject matter is handled with sledgehammer subtlety in this impassioned low-budget thriller that takes place in the hours leading up to the deployment of a National Guard unit to Iraq in 2004. Specifically, it focuses on the teaming of a medic (hip-hop star Bow Wow) who has his request for compassionate leave because of an ill child revoked at the last minute, prompting an attempt at desertion, and the lieutenant (Seth Gabel) whose family connections allow him to avoid deployment in favor of a cushy desk job. There’s little insight here, but rather a generic cat-and-mouse scenario that progressively gets more far-fetched. (Rated R, 93 minutes).



This modest but defiantly original low-budget romantic drama from Portuguese director Miguel Gomes is divided into two chronologically reversed halves, as it tells the story of Aurora (Laura Soveral), a bitter dying woman in Lisbon who dispatches her best friend (Teresa Madruga) to track down an old man with whom Aurora has a mysterious past connection to a more glamorous life. The pace is deliberate, including long stretches with no dialogue, but patient viewers will find some rewards with a quirky and charming film that develops a wealth of emotional depth. The black-and-white cinematography renders the story almost timeless, although it’s not for all tastes. (Not rated, 118 minutes).


West of Memphis

Those who have seen the fascinating Paradise Lost documentary trilogy might feel a sense of overkill from this latest examination of the same case, but new evidence and a fresh perspective keep the subject matter compelling. It chronicles the story of three men who were falsely convicted and imprisoned for almost 20 years for the death of three small boys in an Arkansas suburb. The film follows the efforts to free the men and find the real killer. While the case is familiar, director Amy Berg (Deliver Us from Evil) incisively examines the criminal justice system with a film that is both powerful and persuasive. (Rated R, 147 minutes).