OUR pick of the latest film releases


(15, 135 mins)****

DIRECTOR Spike Lee's impassioned, conscience-pricking satire on corruption and bigotry is based on a memoir by retired Colorado Springs officer Ron Stallworth and walks a tightrope between fact and stranger-than-fiction, seizing every opportunity to echo battle cries of the 2016 US Presidential election.

Thus, David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who is portrayed on screen by Topher Grace, proudly addresses a room of his ardent supporters and sincerely thanks them for putting America first.

"America will never elect somebody like David Duke president of the United States," scoffs detective Ron (John David Washington) to colleagues on the force.

Lee, who co-wrote the script, makes abundantly clear his thoughts on history repeating and he bookends his call-to-arms with sickening footage from Charlottesville of a car being driven at speed into counter-protesters, which left one woman dead and many other people injured.

A disorienting opening salvo featuring Alec Baldwin as a tub-thumping white supremacist segues to Colorado Springs.

Ron (Washington) is persuaded to join the local police force as part of a diversity drive.

This doesn't include visibility because Ron is consigned to the records room, where he suffers abuse from fellow officers like Andy Landers (Frederick Weller).

Eventually, Ron compels Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke) and Sergeant Trapp (Ken Garito) to utilise him in the field and he goes undercover at a local rally organised by Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), president of the black student union, who has invited civil rights leader Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) to speak to the membership.

Back at headquarters, Ron responds to a newspaper advertisement for new members for the Ku Klux Klan and he impresses local chapter president Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold).

Ron foolishly gives his own name over the telephone so when the time comes to meet Walter in person, Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) poses as Ron and spits out racist bile on cue to perpetrate the deception.

Walter's second-in-command Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Paakkonen) isn't convinced but his concerns are overruled when the real Ron develops a telephone friendship with David Duke (Grace), who is due to visit Colorado Springs in a few weeks.

BlacKkKlansman nestles uncomfortable truths in an outlandish narrative, which pays tribute to "the Jackie Robinson of the Colorado Springs police force" as he outwits the KKK from the inside.

Washington and Driver are a groovy double-act and the script strikes a pleasing balance between suspense and humour.

Lee occasionally over-eggs his deliciously tart pudding like his choice to juxtapose climactic scenes of characters chanting "Black Power" and "White Power".

Sometimes, restraint lands the heaviest blows.

The Spy Who Dumped Me

(15, 117 mins)***

JAMES BOND and other chauvinistic dinosaurs of the globe-trotting spy game have nothing to fear from The Spy Who Dumped Me.

Directed and co-written by Susanna Fogel, this action-packed adventure borrows a few crowd-pleasing moves from female-centric capers The Heat and Spy to ensnare two hopelessly unprepared gal pals in a sticky web of intrigue.

Fogel's film has a licence to deliver big laughs and leading lady Kate McKinnon shoots to kill with laser-targeted one-liners and physical comedy rooted in her character's circus training at a performing arts camp, where she enjoyed a teenage romance with US government whistleblower Edward Snowden.

McKinnon is an unstoppable force of nature - bizarrely, she brings the house down with an aside about French novelist Honore de Balzac - and co-star Mila Kunis manages somehow to maintain a straight face as her partner in arms.

The plot is derivative and on-screen chemistry between Kunis and Outlander hunk Sam Heughan never threatens to boil over.

However, director Fogel masterminds set-pieces with assurance including an opening pursuit that owes its death-defying acrobatics to Jason Bourne and a screeching car chase through the streets of Vienna.

Supermarket cashier Audrey Stockton (Kunis) meets Drew Thayer (Justin Theroux) in a bar on her birthday and sparks fly as they playfully spar about the worst song on the jukebox.

Their whirlwind romance ends abruptly with Drew dumping Audrey by text.

She seeks solace in the company of 30-something best friend Morgan (McKinnon), who has a hilarious habit of oversharing with her parents (Paul Reiser, Jane Curtin).

Morgan recommends that Audrey should cleanse herself of Drew by burning his belongings.

Before the first squirt of lighter fluid, Drew re-establishes contact.

He reveals that he is an undercover CIA operative and had to terminate the relationship with Audrey because the criminal fraternity was prepared to hurt her to get to him.

Audrey is touched until bullets fly and she goes on the run with Morgan and a USB flash drive encrypted with details of a terrorist network's diabolical plans.

The women head to Austria where they cross paths with dashing MI6 agent Sebastian Henshaw (Sam Heughan).

As Audrey and Morgan learn about Drew's past, they untangle a global conspiracy and become targets for a deranged, gymnastic assassin (Ivanna Sakhno).

The Spy Who Dumped Me promotes girl power with every predictable twist and turn including some amusing interludes with Gillian Anderson's stern MI6 chief, who Morgan gushingly crowns "the Beyonce of the government".

McKinnon's boundless energy and gift for pratfalls papers over cracks in the script and catalyses a sprightly screen pairing with Kunis's comic foil, who is remarkably adept with a hand gun under pressure.

The deception and double-cross are preposterous fun but no-one is going to leave the cinema shaken or stirred once the end credits roll.

The Children Act

(12A, 107 mins)****

DAME Emma Thompson delivers one of the most beautifully calibrated, heartrending performances of her career in The Children Act, adapted for the screen by Ian McEwan from his 2014 novel.

Donning the robes of a judge, who tranquilises her emotions when she presides over cases at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the two-time Oscar winner elegantly reveals chinks in her character's brandished armour.

Despite her best efforts at cool detachment, guilt and regret eventually spill over as one deliberation reaches its summation.

"This is a court of law, not of morals," the judge sombrely informs two sides of a high-profile argument about whether conjoined twins should be separated and condemn one sibling to death.

For the opening hour, Richard Eyre's courtroom drama is a riveting character study.

Thompson wrestles with life-or-death decisions with a stoicism and haunting solitude that comes at the expense of personal relationships.

Once a contentious central case is closed and the judge faces the ramifications of her carefully weighted words, the film unravels in a concluding act devoid of emotional heft.

It's a muddled, unsatisfying resolution to an artfully composed study that promises so much.

The Honorable Mrs Justice Maye (Thompson) is a slave to the law.

Her heavy workload leaves scant time for husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) and he shocks his wife by confessing his intention to have an affair.

Unable to respond, Fiona is called away to deal with the urgent case of 17-year-old leukaemia patient Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead).

The boy and his parents (Ben Chaplin, Eileen Walsh) are Jehovah's Witnesses and it is contrary to their faith to accept blood.

Without a transfusion, Adam will die and senior staff at the hospital are concerned that Adam is being influenced by his parents.

Since the patient is a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday, Fiona wields the power to force him to accept the blood that could save his life.

Mark Berner QC (Anthony Calf) leads the case for a transfusion and Fiona visits Adam in hospital to assess his state of mind.

Aided by her fastidious clerk Nigel (Jason Watkins), Fiona must deliver her ruling while attempting to resuscitate her marriage.

The Children Act is a handsome showcase for Thompson and she never disappoints, even when the human drama around her feels contrived.

Rising star Whitehead, who dodged bullets in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, lingers in the memory, more so than Tucci's neglected spouse, who is starved of screen time to truly convince us that he demands our sympathy.

Eyre directs at a pedestrian pace, allowing us sufficient time to chew on moral conundrums and come to our own conclusions.

My verdict is that his intelligent, sensitively handled film fails to achieve its full potential.

Damon Smith