‘‘Amour’’ — Michael Haneke takes a subject you don’t often see in movies and probably don’t even want to see — the slow, steady deterioration of an elderly woman — and handles it with great grace. The Austrian writer-director, who’s achieved a reputation for a certain mercilessness over the years through films like ‘‘Cache’’ and ‘‘Funny Games,’’ displays a surprising and consistent humanity here, and draws unadorned but lovely performances from his veteran stars, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. Haneke focuses on the intimate moments of their changing lives as the longtime married couple remains holed up in their comfortable Paris apartment, coping day to day, waiting for eventual death. It will surely strike a chord with anyone who’s watched a loved one slip away in this manner, whether it’s a parent or a spouse. But Haneke’s aesthetic can feel too stripped-down, too one-note in its dignified monotony. He will hold a shot, as we know, and once again he avoids the use of a score, so all that’s left to focus on is the insular, dreary stillness of quiet descent. Certainly minimalism is preferable to melodrama in telling this kind of story, but Haneke takes this approach to such an extreme that it’s often hard to maintain emotional engagement. PG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language. In French with English subtitles. 125 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
‘‘The Impossible’’ — Based on the true story of a family swept away by the deadly tsunami that pummeled Southeast Asia in 2004, director Juan Antonio Bayona’s drama is about as subtle as a wall of water. The depiction of the natural disaster itself is visceral and horrifying — impeccable from a production standpoint. And Naomi Watts gives a vivid, deeply committed performance as the wife and mother of three young boys who finds the strength to persevere despite desolation and debilitating injuries. But man, is this thing heavy-handed. Watts and Ewan McGregor play Maria and Henry, a happily married British couple spending Christmas at a luxury resort in Thailand with their three adorable sons. (The real-life family whose story inspired the film was Spanish; changing their ethnicity and casting famous people to play them seems like a rather transparent attempt to appeal to a larger audience.) During a quiet morning by the pool, the first massive wave comes ashore, scattering the family and thousands of strangers across the devastated landscape. ‘‘The Impossible’’ tracks their efforts to survive, reconnect, find medical care and get the hell out of town. The near-misses at an overcrowded hospital are just too agonizing to be true, and the uplifting score swells repeatedly in overpowering fashion to indicate how we should feel. Surely, the inherent drama of this story could have stood on its own two feet. PG-13 for intense, realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images, and brief nudity. 107 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
‘‘Jack Reacher’’ — The idea of watching a movie in which a sniper methodically manufactures his own bullets, practices weekly at a gun range, then waits quietly in an empty parking garage before shooting five people dead may not sound like the most appealing form of entertainment during these tragic days. Nevertheless, it’s important to assess ‘‘Jack Reacher’’ on its own terms, for what it is and what it isn't. Besides being caught in some unfortunate timing, it’s also clever, well-crafted and darkly humorous, and it features one of those effortless bad-ass performances from Tom Cruise that remind us that he is indeed a movie star, first and foremost. OK, so maybe Cruise doesn’t exactly resemble the Reacher of British novelist Lee Child’s books: a 6-foot-5, 250-pound, blond behemoth. If you haven’t read them, you probably won’t care. Even if you have read them, Christopher McQuarrie’s film — the first he’s directed and written since 2000’s ‘‘The Way of the Gun’’ — moves so fluidly and with such confidence, it'll suck you in from the start. Jack Reacher is a former military investigator who’s become a bit of a mythic figure since he’s gone off the grid. When the deadly shooting occurs at the film’s start, authorities believe they've quickly found their man: a sniper who’s ex-Army himself. He reveals nothing during his interrogation but manages to scribble the words ‘‘Get Jack Reacher’’ on a notepad before winding up in a coma. But when Reacher arrives and reluctantly agrees to help the defense attorney (Rosamund Pike) investigate, he finds the case isn’t nearly as simple as it seems. PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material. 130 minutes. Three stars out of four.Continued...