Movies to watch this week at the cinema: Triple 9, Bone Tomahawk, Freeheld, more...

Out on Friday 19 February

John Hillcoat returns with a dirty-cop thriller. Kurt Russell leads an off-kilter western-comedy-horror. Yes, heres this weeks new releases. Click on for our reviews of Triple 9, Bone Tomahawk, Freeheld, Chronic, Mavis! and Only The Dead. For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film.

TRIPLE 9

Spend my time tryin to make a difference, says rookie Atlanta cop Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) when asked by his uncle, Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson), how his jobs going. Make a difference? comes the snarled response. You aint gonna make a fuckin difference. Your job? Out-monster the monster, and get home at the end of the night. Even reduced to such basics, its one hell of a task, with Chris finding himself up to his neck in a city brought to its knees by Russian mafia, corrupt cops and a succession of military-precision heists. All three are naturally linked, with the mobsters, led by terrifying (and thats just her hair and make-up) Russian-Israeli moll Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet), strong-arming the dirty cops, bossed by Belmont (Chiwetel Ejiofor), into masterminding the takedowns. Belmonts team comprises Chris experienced partner Marcus Atwood (Anthony Mackie), the taciturn Russel Welch (Norman Reedus) and Russels jittery younger brother, ex-cop Gabe (Aaron Paul). Used to responding to violent criminal enterprises, they of course know how best to liberate one very special security box from a banks impregnable vault, and even how to conduct the kamikaze heist theyre forcibly assigned in the third act. Just what the target of that heist is or the truly shocking manner in which they set about it shall here remain a mystery as will the translation of the movies cop-code title, which, if unfamiliar to you, should remain so until it plays its part in this seedy, sweaty drama. That Triple 9 is even half as good as it is or, indeed, made it to our screens at all is a minor miracle given its messy production history. Sprung from the 2010 Black List by Australian director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) in May 2012, its casting turned into a revolving door: Shia LaBeouf became Charlie Hunnam became Affleck as Chris Allen; Cate Blanchett became Winslet as Irina Vlaslov; Michael B. Jordan became Mackie as Marcus Atwood; and Christoph Waltz became Harrelson as Jeffrey Allen. Even Hillcoats favoured composer, Nick Cave, gave way to experimental noise-mongers Atticus Ross and Bobby Krlic, the former responsible for the demented score of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (with Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor), the latter known for his ambient drone metal. Such chaos behind the camera matches the world portrayed in front of it. Triple 9 might juggle such familiar elements as cops and robbers, car chases, house raids, street gangs and running gun battles, but it attains a good degree of freshness from its unremitting squalor. So while corrupt-cop movies have been 10 a penny since the 70s, few have managed to be this repellent, where a row of decapitated heads on the hood of a car or a baby in a roomful of pointed guns hardly merit a second glance. And despite one superbly orchestrated scene that trades on mobility and cacophony as men with semi-automatic weapons move through traffic against a backdrop of towering skyscrapers, this is the anti- Heat: no sheen, no shimmer, no obsessing over highly grandiose themes and precise compositions; just grime and desperation. Our avatar into this hell on earth is Chris, and it is his refusal to accept that he is incapable of making a difference, or at least a dent, that prevents Triple 9 from drowning us in shit, blood and nihilism. What LaBeouf, who teamed with Hillcoat on Lawless, or Hunnam, so good in Sons Of Anarchy and so average in movies, might have done with the role well never know, but Affleck brings just the right mix of world-weariness and optimism. He is, arguably, the standout in a uniformly strong ensemble, though there should be shout-outs too for a pumped-up, almost unrecognisable Ejiofor, and for a scarily icy Winslet after last years Steve Jobs and The Dressmaker, its another look, another accent, another triumph. One thing of side interest: Triple 9 boasts an unusually high quota of comic-book heroes in Reedus (Darryl in The Walking Dead and The Punisher in Iron Man: Rise Of Technovore), Anthony Mackie (Falcon in numerous Marvel movies), Ejiofor (Karl Mordo in the upcoming Doctor Strange) and, playing Irina Vlaslovs younger sister, Gal Gadot (soon to debut as Wonder Woman in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice). Even in this age of knottily complex superhero movies, you have to wonder what those larger-than-life alter egos would make of the mundane atrocities in Triple 9, and if theyd dare hope to alleviate the darkness? THE VERDICT: If you like bleak n brutal thrillers like The French Connection, Se7en and Animal Kingdom (who doesnt?), this is the movie for you. Director: John Hillcoat Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson Theatrical release: 19 February 2016 Jamie Graham

BONE TOMAHAWK

This is why frontier life is so difficult. Not because of the Indians or the elements, but because of the idiots! cries damsel in distress Samantha at the climax of S. Craig Zahlers off-kilter western. She has, its fair to say, a point. Stubborn hubby Arthur (Patrick Wilson) broke his leg falling off the roof. The residents of Bright Hope, the one-horse town they inhabit, bicker, drink and shoot each other. And most of the films running time concerns Arthur, Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell), deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and wild-card Brooder (Matthew Fox) mounting a not-especially-promising rescue mission when Samanthas stolen in the night by cave-dwelling natives. On paper, Zahlers debut as writer/director may not sound especially promising either. As a western-comedy-horror its pretty much in a category of one (although 2007s Undead Or Alive comes close). It also turns sharply and not entirely successfully to splatter towards the end (and features, believe it or not, an actual bone tomahawk). The similarly strange Slow West may have been slow, but at least it didnt hobble its hero. Zahler isnt playing quite the same game, but he still has some aces up his sleeve. Theres a great cast relishing their rounded characters wed pay good money to see a prequel with Hunt and Chicory patrolling Bright Hope as younger men plus cameos from genre favourites Sid Haig (House Of 1,000 Corpses) and David Arquette (Scream). The witty dialogue feels like its spoken rather than scripted: Why are you in my breakfast? barks Hunt to Chicory, although we know he loves him. Even the names are great. Brooder (bruder is German for brother) hides a tale of sibling sadness; Chicory is, indeed, weedy, if persistent and perennial. Although Zahler doesnt quite pull off the genre gear-shift, he doesnt pull his punches either, and after a few minutes in the company of these men youd follow them to hell and back, idiots or not. THE VERDICT: Zahlers dialogue takes us effortlessly back to the Old West, the cast are excellent, and a few stumbles aside this is best campfire movie for some time. Director: S. Craig Zahler Starring: Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons Theatrical release: 19 February 2016 Matt Glasby

FREEHELD

Theres much to admire in this real-life tale, not least Julianne Moores touching portrayal of a cop with terminal cancer fighting to leave her pension benefits to her younger partner (Ellen Page). If only Peter Solletts film werent so leadenly didactic in its handling of adversity and intolerance. Offsetting the worthiness is Steve Carell, flamboyant (if sometimes distracting) as a gay activist who rallies to Moores cause. Meanwhile, Michael Shannon aces it as Moores conflicted detective partner. But this is ultimately a by-the-numbers issue pic stubbornly televisual in style and scope. Director: Peter Sollet Starring: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carell Theatrical release: 19 February 2016 Neil Smith

CHRONIC

Mexican director Michel Franco (After Lucia) makes his English-language debut with this dignified terminal-illness drama featuring a Tim Roth performance so good it obliterates the lingering stink of United Passions. Roth plays David, a late-stage caregiver who will do almost anything to make his patients comfortable in their final days. The frank depiction of an inconceivably arduous vocation makes for uncomfortable viewing, with Francos static camera refusing to shy away as David goes about his duties. A problematic ending leaves a sour taste, but Roths subtle and brilliant performance is not to be missed. Director: Michel Franco Starring: Tim Roth, Sarah Sutherland Theatrical release: 19 February 2016 Jordan Farley

MAVIS!

Unlike more scandal-strewn conflict-spiced rock docs, first-timer Jessica Edwards Mavis Staples bio-doc is a loving thing: a feelgood film buzzing with the positive vibrations its subject aims to share. Splicing live footage, archive material and interviews, Edwards tells the story of a trailblazer who married gospel to blues, soul to civil rights. Contributions from Bob Dylan, Chuck D, Wilcos Jeff Tweedy and others uphold her decades-spanning impact. Struggle and sadness emerge but what booms out is Mavis desire to keep singing and her gratitude for every opportunity: exclamation mark required. Director: Jessica Edwards Starring: Mavis Staples, Bob Dylan, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm, Jeff Tweedy, Chuck D Theatrical release: 19 February 2016 Kevin Harley

ONLY THE DEAD

In the aftermath of the second Iraq war, Australian reporter Michael Ware had a ringside seat as the US-led occupation descended into a free-for-all of suicide bombers, insurgencies and terrorist outrages orchestrated by shadowy militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This visceral, harrowing distillation of Wares seven years on the front line may not break any new ground. But it certainly brings that chaos to life, notably in scenes depicting the carnage of a car explosion or an ill-starred raid on a Fallujah stronghold. Its debatable, though, whether the gruesome execution footage really needed to be shown. Directors: Bill Guttentag, Michael Ware Starring: Michael Ware Theatrical release: 15 February 2016 Neil Smith