Snap Judgment: Movies

Innocent Voices Directed by Luis Mandoki

The brutal civil war in El Salvador is seen through the terrified eyes of 11-year-old Chava (Carlos Padilla), who knows that when he turns 12 he'll be conscripted into the government's Army and forced to kill. Based on screenwriter Oscar Torres's childhood, Mandoki's gripping film may pull on the heartstrings too knowingly, but it's hard to forget the sight of the village's children lying silent and still on every rooftop, praying the recruiting soldiers below will pass them by.

North Country Directed by Niki Caro

No matter how much dirt Charlize Theron rubs on her face to play Minnesota iron miner Josey Aimes--who mounts a class- action sexual-harassment suit against her piggish employers--she's still too refined for the part. Niki ("Whale Rider") Caro's intermittently stirring drama is loosely based on a true story. You'll be properly enraged by the humiliations Josie and her fellow women have to endure, but Hollywood contrivances and improbable courtroom twists undermine the last act. Still, Frances McDormand, as the lone female union rep, and Richard Jenkins, as Josie's angry miner dad, cut through the predictability.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang Directed by Shane Black

In this convoluted, stylish film noir sendup, petty New York thief Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is mistaken for an actor and is flown to L.A. to train for a detective role with real-life private eye Gay Perry (Val Kilmer). Illusion and reality further collide when Harry falls for an aspiring actress (Michelle Monaghan), then witnesses a murder, and finds himself dodging real bullets. Jumpy and ironic, Downey is a quicksilver delight and Kilmer is funny as the gay Perry. But Black's inventive, self-conscious script--heavy on voice-over narration--can be too clever for its own good. The movie is baroque fun, but exhausting.