GOOD PEOPLE GONE BAD

This Season: for his cinema highlight, Nicholas Barber picks one theme and two films

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, March/April 2013

One is a short, sharp American indie movie set in a suburban fast-food restaurant, the other a forbidding, two-and-a-half-hour Romanian drama set in a remote religious order. But both "Compliance" and "Beyond the Hills" are inspired by events that occurred in the past decade. Both balance heart-wrenching tragedy and inky black comedy. And both zero in on the same question: why it is that good people do bad things. 

"Compliance"—the American one—is a crafty chamber piece which plays out over one busy day in a depressing KFC surrogate. A policeman phones up and instructs the harried manageress (Ann Dowd) to strip-search a junior colleague (Dreama Walker), and such is his mastery of flattery and intimidation that she never thinks to ask who’s really on the other end of the line.

"Beyond the Hills" (above), the Romanian one, is Cristian Mungiu’s long-awaited follow-up to "4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days", which won the Palme d’Or in 2007. When its heroine (Cosmina Stratan) visits her beloved childhood friend (Cristina Flutur) in an austere mountain monastery, she feels as if she has slipped back into an earlier, less enlightened century. She tries to fit in, but her hosts—all women except for one priest—conclude that nothing short of a brutal exorcism ritual can save her soul. Mungiu’s film is a steamroller: slow-moving, carefully controlled, but unstoppable and crushing. "Compliance", written and directed by Craig Zobel, is lighter and nimbler, but leaves the viewer feeling no less pulverised.

Compliance British release March 1st; Beyond the Hills March 15th

AT A GLANCE

Cloud Atlas (out now in Britain and America). Tom Twyker and the Wachowskis adapt David Mitchell’s novel by cutting between six stories in six different periods, but keeping the same key actors (including Tom Hanks and Halle Berry). A feat of editing, even if the message (we’re all connected) doesn’t quite merit 172 minutes of your time.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (out now in Britain and America), Oz the Great and Powerful (March 8th), Jack the Giant Slayer (March 22nd/March 1st). Blame Tim Burton. His "Alice" was such a money-spinner that now every book on the children’s fantasy shelf is being made over by a credible director, with a pin-up in the lead, and a lot more CGI battles than you may remember from pre-school days. "Witch Hunters" is a splatter-comedy with Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton. Sam Raimi’s "Oz" is a "Wizard of Oz" prequel starring James Franco as a fairground conjuror who’s whisked away to the Emerald City. And "Jack", with Nicholas Hoult, is directed by Bryan Singer from "X-Men".

Trance (March 27th/5th April). Olympics over, Danny Boyle gets back to the day job and back together with John Hodge, who wrote his first four films. "Trance" is a twisty art-theft thriller starring James McAvoy and Vincent Cassel. Boyle is relieved that the "treachery [is] on the screen rather than behind the scenes", so maybe the Olympics weren’t such a picnic after all.

In the House (March 29th). A tweedy teacher (Fabrice Luchini) is scandalised by his pet pupil’s voyeuristic essays... but can’t stop reading them. François Ozon’s impish comedy tells an addictive story about why we tell addictive stories.

The Place Beyond the Pines (April 12th/29th March). Derek Cianfrance, director of the unsparing "Blue Valentine", rejoins Ryan Gosling for another serious, structurally jumpy drama in which actions end up having thunderous repercussions. This time the violence is physical as well as emotional, as Gosling’s stuntman turns to bank robbery.

Village at the End of the World (April 19th). Get away from it all with Sarah Gavron’s irresistible documentary, a snapshot of a Greenland settlement.

Nicholas Barber is a film critic, and a former rock critic, for the Independent on Sunday.