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March 12 2009 12:00 AM

Revolutionary Road. Richard Yates 1961 novel about a young couple staring into the abyss of the American Dream provides director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") with plenty of emotional ammunition to fuel this gorgeous but devastating drama. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are perfectly cast as Frank and April Wheeler, a married couple with two kids and a dream of abandoning their cookie-cutter suburban lifestyle for a new start in Paris. Everyday 30-year-old Frank commutes into Manhattan from their perfect home in Connecticut while April keeps house. Both are smart and articulate enough to see the dead-end before them, but April has a sharper sense of the immediacy of their plight. Michael Shannon pulls off a high-wire supporting performance as John Givings, a mentally indigent visitor who all-tooaccurately assesses the couples problems. This is an intense drama that barley allows viewers to catch their breath. Rated R. 119 mins (A )

Frost/Nixon. Ron Howard delivers a highly competent film transformation of Peter Morgans Broadway play that features Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprising their stage roles. Sheen plays British celebrity talk show host David Frost working in Australia, when he devises a plan to conduct a series of four interviews with former President Richard Nixon, just four months after Nixons resignation. Assisted by a crack team of advisors, consisting of Oliver Platt as a veteran D.C. journalist and Sam Rockwell as an activist Nixon biographer, Frost leverages his own financing for the show and self-syndicates it in spite of jeers from the world of professional journalists. This is a study of two wildly ambitious men engaging in a public test of intelligence, wit and strategy. (Universal Pictures) Rated R. 122 mins. (B )

The Wrestler. After disappointing audiences with "The Fountain" (2006), Darren Aronofsky bounces back with an affecting portrait of an aging wrestler (brilliantly played by Mickey Rourke) coming to grips with his waning health and need to reconnect with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). Years of working the wrestling circuit have taken their toll on Randy "the Ram" Robinsons heavily scarred body, when he takes one last stab at the pro wrestling circuit. Broke and lonely, Randy frequently visits stripper Cassidy/Pam (Marisa Tomei) at the club where she dances to woo her into his life. With limited options available, Randy reaches out to his disenfranchised daughter Stephanie, who he has never been able to support. Aronofsky invokes a fierce, blue-collar integrity that supports the idiosyncrasies of the storys pro wrestling milieu. Tomei gives a fearless performance as a nude dancer whose days of entertaining are winding down. "The Wrestler" is an independent gem. Rated R. 109 mins. (B )

Defiance. While it’s set in the same era and country as Elem Klimov’s war drama “Come and See,” Edward Zwick’s “Defiance” wears its heart on its sleeve, where Klimov’s superior film took a more poetic, yet realistic approach. Three brothers — avenger-turned-pacifist Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), and younger Asael (Jamie Bell) — go into hiding inside the thick forests of Belarus with an ever-growing group of Holocaust refugees. Tuvia has a crisis of faith after murdering his fathers assassin, and Zus comes to doubt Tuvias ability to lead before breaking away to start his own band of freedom fighters. Historian Nechama Tecs factual book "Defiance: The Story of the Bielski Partisans" provides the basis for an underwhelming war film done-in by miscalculated episodes of violence and some exceptionally inept dialogue. (Paramount Vantage) Rated R. 136 mins. (C)

Gran Torino. "Old man Dirty Harry" is one way to describe Clint Eastwoods miserable racist character Walt Kowalski in what the actor and director says will be his last film role. Detroit resident and widower Walt is a veteran of the Korean War who carries the ugly experience with him everywhere he goes. Hes most comfortable around his barber, who he can relate to in the same rude way soldiers of his generation expressed the subtext of their situation — with lots of racial insults and fourletter words. A family of Hmong rile Walt when they move into the house next door, but gradually soften him up with their respectful traditions and culinary generosity. In the face of intimidation from a group of neighborhood gang-bangers, Walt takes the familys teen-aged son Thao (played by newcomer Bee Vang) under his wing. Less than solid performances from some of its inexperienced actors tug at the overall effect of the movie, but "Gran Torino" is a delicacy for its keen embrace of a dying breed of American male identity that Eastwood perfected around the time of the Korean War. Rated R. 116 minutes. (B)

Last Chance Harvey. The nightingale of mature romance sings for Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in a good-spirited romantic comedy worthy of their understated comic performances. In foggy London town, American jingle-composer Harvey Shine (Hoffman) arrives to give away his daughter at her large-scale wedding. The trouble is that daughter Susan (Eileen Atkins) wants her new step-dad Brian (James Brolin) to do the honors. With no job to return home to, Harvey courts London-native Kate Walker (Thompson) with more gusto than hes probably shown in many years. As a tender love story told with delicate simplicity, "Last Chance Harvey" is a winner. (Overture Films) Rated PG-13. 90 mins. (B )

Yes Man. Jim Carreys career has succumbed to painfully mediocre comedies and genre missteps for so long that "Yes Man" barely registers even as youre watching it. Carl Allen (Carrey) is like every New Yorker; "no" is his first response to anything. Recovering from a three-year-old divorce, depressed Carl is dragged by a caring co-worker to a self-help seminar led by a convincing guru (Terrence Stamp). Carls following episodes of helping others and striking up a relationship with Allison (Zooey Deschanel) come as uninspired afterthoughts in a crumby feel-good movie about feeling good. Blech! (Warner Brothers Pictures) Rated PG-13. 104 mins. (C-)

The Reader. David Hares screenplay adaptation of Bernhard Schlinks 1995 novel packs a punch during the first half of this film, when 15-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) slips into a heated sexual affair with Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), a 30-something train assistant. In between bouts of intimate frolicking, Hanna has Michael read aloud to her from the books of literature that he studies in school. The sexual relationship plays out, and Michael goes on to study college law where he is shocked to encounter Hanna standing trial for her association with the Nazis in sending Jews to their deaths. The story is unique in that it attempts to humanize a perpetrator of war atrocities via an unconventional sexual context. The film reaches for a satisfying resolution, but it cant settle on how to sum up a deeply personal story of loss and unintended betrayal. Nevertheless, strong ensemble performances prevail with Ralph Fiennes giving a characteristically nuanced weight to Michael in his later years. (The Weinstein Company) Rated R. 123 mins. (B-)

For more reviews visit www.colesmithey.com

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