Snap Judgment: Movies

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Directed by Tommy Lee Jones

As an actor Tommy Lee Jones rarely makes a false move. A master of understatement, he conveys a sense of enormous power held in check. The same could be said of his first feature as a director, "Three Burials," a laconic tale of revenge, loyalty and redemption on the Texas-Mexico border. Jones plays Pete Perkins, a ranch foreman whose good friend Melquiades (Julio Cesar Cedillo), an illegal-migrant worker from Mexico, is shot in cold blood by a trigger-happy, racist border patrol-man (Barry Pepper). The politics of illegal immigration is not what interests Jones and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga ("21 Grams"), who imbue Pete's quixotic quest to bury his friend in Mexico with a streak of pitch-black humor, some bawdy detours and a touch of sanguine, sun-baked poetry Sam Peckinpah would have liked. Opens 12/14.

The Producers

Directed by Susan Stroman

Mel Brooks's 1968 comedy "The Producers," about a Broadway producer and an accountant trying to make a killing by mounting a show guaranteed to flop--the musical "Springtime for Hitler"--was broadly theatrical to begin with. Now we have Susan Stroman's stubbornly faithful movie of the musical, with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and the theatricality is off the charts. Lane aims for the balconies; Broderick tones it down for the camera a bit. It's fun to see Uma Thurman do a broad Swedish-sexpot number, and "Springtime" itself, with Gary Beach's hilariously fey Hitler, is still a hoot. Filled with brazenly old-fashioned Nazi jokes, fag jokes and little-old-lady sex jokes, "The Producers" is knowingly tasteless. But why see the movie musical when you could rent the movie that inspired it? Opens 12/16.

Cache Directed

by Michael Haneke

The Austrian director Michael Haneke is a maestro of discomfort. "Cache " ("Hidden"), his unnervingly provocative new movie, jangles your nerves as expertly as a big-studio thriller. But Haneke's methods are the antithesis of Hollywood's. He provides no consolations or closure, and he doesn't use shock cuts and scary music cues to make us gasp. His subject is a cultured Parisian media couple (artfully played by Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) whose comfortable life unravels when they discover someone is making surveillance tapes of their home. Then an ominous, threatening drawing arrives. Who is targeting them? What do they want? Haneke subtly merges the personal and the political, using thriller motifs to explore issues of guilt, conscience and responsibility. Auteuil's enraged quest to find his tormentor leads back both to repressed childhood secrets and to France's colonial past in Algeria. This brilliantly disturbing movie is constructed with surgical precision. Haneke lets no one off the hook least of all the viewer. Opens 12/23.

Match Point

Directed by Woody Allen

The change of locale from New York to London has done Woody Allen a world of good. As has oft been said, "Match Point" is his best movie since ... fill in the blank. Don't expect laughs. Irish tennis pro Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a classic young man from the provinces on the make in London. Chris gets taken up by a wealthy young man about town (Matthew Goode), then marries his sister (Emily Mortimer) and enters her father's (Brian Cox) business. The snake in Chris's garden is his brother-in-law's sullen, irresistible American girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson). Chris's dilemma will call to mind "A Place in the Sun, " "Room at the Top" and Allen's own "Crimes and Misdemeanors." All this deja vu keeps "Match Point" from total success. Though the tale is told with crisp sangfroid and a wonderful twist, there's hardly a scene I haven't seen somewhere else. Opens 12/28.

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