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'Brake' writes itself into a box

March 23, 2012
  • Ray Sahetapy, left, and Pierre Gruno in a scene from "The Raid: Redemption."
Ray Sahetapy, left, and Pierre Gruno in a scene from "The Raid: Redemption." (Akhirwan Nurhaidir / Sony…)

Upon finding himself trapped in a Lucite coffin in the opening minutes of the silly thriller "Brake," Secret Service agent Jeremy Reins (Stephen Dorff) figures he's being shaken down for his outstanding gambling debts. Upon finding yourself trapped with Dorff for 91 minutes, you may correctly remember that Rodrigo Cortés' 2010 morality play "Buried" took the same, single-setting premise to places far more interesting than the empty cynicism found here.

Agent Reins quickly learns that the stakes are bigger than those at the card games he frequents. Terrorists have abducted him and if he doesn't reveal the location of the president's secret underground bunker, they will kill Reins, his estranged wife and the family of the State Department worker he's been communicating with via CB radio.

Yes, Reins' glass tank comes equipped with a CB as well as a digital timer that counts down time increments of various lengths. Once the clock reads zero, the kidnappers unleash a new form of torture into the coffin in order to prod him to talk. But since it's quickly established that our hero is resolute and will never spill the beans, director Gabe Torres cannot wring much suspense from the peril even when the scope of the terrorists' plot becomes clear.

So we stay with Dorff in the box, waiting to see how Torres and screenwriter Timothy Mannion pry the lid off. They deliver two twists, the second even more preposterous than its predecessor and, in the process, negate both common sense and the previous hour and a half.

Glenn Whipp

"Brake." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. At Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood.

Swinging wildly between screed and lament, "Detachment" doesn't take much to tap into the raw emotions many people feel about the state of public education in the United States. Adrien Brody brings his offbeat brand of weary, roguish intensity to the role of substitute teacher Henry Barthes, a damaged empath whose commitment to a dispirited student body is admirable, while his bond to an underage prostitute (Sami Gayle) he tries to save carries worrisome shades of "Taxi Driver."

Former teacher Carl Lund's lost-souls screenplay has all the hallmarks of something issue-smart yet dramatically amateurish, which in the hands of filmmaker Tony Kaye ("American History X") — not known for subtlety — certainly makes for emotional unpredictability.

"Detachment" is a movie you keep expecting to fizzle because of its punching-the-air gracelessness, but there's something weirdly effective about the artistic desperation, which includes inserts of chalkboard animation and to-the-camera testimonials.

Eventually the movie's accumulated details, especially the fine cameo splashes from Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan, Christina Hendricks and Lucy Liu as fellow educators, culminate in an unmistakable sadness about one of our country's worsening institutional tragedies.

Robert Abele

"Detachment." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.

Wartime can make for curious allies. Ismael Ferroukhi's "Free Men" dramatizes one such little-known nugget of World War II resistance in Nazi-occupied France: the Paris Mosque's sheltering of North African Jews by providing them with falsified Muslim identification.

Director/co-writer Ferroukhi's gateway into this world is an Algerian-born black market operator named Younes (Tahar Rahim), coerced by German authorities into spying on Vichy-friendly, culturally sophisticated mosque director Ben Ghabrit (a true historical figure, played with effortless authorial weight by Michael Lonsdale). Younes is eventually swayed to the mosque's protection of freedom fighters, however, through his friendship with talented singer — and secret Jew — Salim (Mahmoud Shalaby).

As far as political awakenings go, Ferroukhi never makes Younes' transformation a melodramatic sea change, preferring to let a tense atmosphere of burgeoning immigrant workers' rights, urgent spycraft and nudged morality show how someone hard-wired for self-preservation can turn those skills toward helping others.

Rahim, star of "A Prophet," once again shows how quietly magnetic and appealingly enigmatic he can be, while Ferroukhi's use of music — whether the lone trumpet underscoring Younes' actions or the scenes in which Salim's Arab Andalusian singing (dubbed by Pinhas Cohen) brings momentary joy to hounded lives — is exemplary.

Robert Abele

"Free Men." No MPAA rating; In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes. At the Nuart, West Los Angeles.

Known as much for his wild lifestyle as his intense character studies such as "Bad Lieutenant" and "King of New York," filmmaker Abel Ferrara apparently has mellowed and straightened out, giving his most recent work an increasingly elegiac cast.

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