Playing like The West Wing in stove-pipe hats, Steven Spielberg’s biopic LINCOLN (12: Twentieth Century Fox) may be a little stolid for some.
But others will be captivated by this film about the 16th president of the United States and an important moment of 19th Century political brinkmanship.
Spielberg originally intended his epic, which lost out to Argo in the Best Picture judging for the Oscars, to be a much more expansive look at Lincoln’s presidency.
Instead it concentrates on just four tumultuous months in 1865 when he pushed the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives, outlawing slavery and bringing an end to the Civil War.
Abe is played with understated authority by Oscar-winning Daniel Day-Lewis and there are outstanding performances from Sally Field, as the First Lady, and Tommy Lee Jones, relishing the rich dialogue as Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens.
The president is notably absent from the barracking and verbal jousting of the House, where an impressive ensemble of bewhiskered character actors holds sway, as he telegraphs his wishes via trustees such as Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn).
Most of the film takes place indoors, with heavy use of candles and gaslight, making the glimpses of war all the more stirring for their scarcity.
> It may be A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (12: Twentieth Century Fox), but it’s also a good time to bring this franchise to a close. Bruce Willis’s fifth outing as ‘wrong-place, wrong-time’ New York cop John McClane sees trouble follow him to Moscow.
Having come to his daughter’s rescue in the previous movie, he teams up with his estranged CIA operative son to thwart hordes of Russian mobsters and terrorists.
McClaine junior (Jai Courtney) is tasked with protecting an informant whose secret files could bring down an underworld kingpin. But believing his son is himself in imminent danger, dad once again has to break out the fists and firepower.
A series of shootouts, car chases and explosions are lazily stitched together with a confusing plot weighed down by too many coincidences and double-crosses.
Willis is also looking creaky in stunt scenes and his once wisecracking character seems lost without the verbal sparring partners – either allies or foes – that were such a huge part of earlier instalments.
> Director Kathryn Bigelow skilfully manages to present a cohesive narrative out of potentially confusing material with ZERO DARK THIRTY (15: Universal), a thriller from the makers of The Hurt Locker.
The hunt for Osama Bin Laden is catalogued in forensic detail in this wordy but well-paced film in which CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) joins a team of intelligence and military operatives after the September 11 attacks.
She spends the next 10 years following every small lead across the globe while attempting to track down the al-Qaeda figurehead’s hideout, frequently locking horns with her superiors back in the United States. Scenes of torture have provoked widespread controversy, but Chastain’s character gives the film a strong human centre.