The Gift
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for language.

 

“The Gift” is into old-fashioned scares. It doesn’t rely on loud, creepy soundtrack or bloody images to move the audience. Its Hitchcockian approach creates tension. The deeply complicated character study starts with Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), who have moved to Los Angeles to get a fresh start. Then Simon is approached by Gordo (Joel Edgerton), a strange man with whom he attended high school 20 years ago. Gordo injects himself into the couple’s lives. It starts innocently enough, but by the middle of the movie, it’s impossible to know which characters are good and which hold an evil heart. The casting is top-notch. Hitchcock always selected the perfect venue for his stories to unfold (a bedroom window, a national monument). “The Gift” follows Hitchcock’s lead masterfully. The house used for the film is like a gigantic fishbowl: No matter how hard those inside try, they can’t hide from the outside world. “The Gift” has one last great strength. Edgerton has created a movie that respects the intelligence of the audience. He’s created an ending that will spark debates.
Rick Bentley, Fresno Bee

 

The Look of Silence
⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for disturbing graphic descriptions of atrocity.
Theater: Lagoon.

 

For long stretches of Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary we watch a man watching a movie. With a pained expression, Adi Rukun of Indonesia concentrates on footage of his countrymen gleefully describing how they butchered countless people during that country’s anti-Communist purges of 1965 and 1966. It’s an excruciating spectacle, especially considering Adi’s brother, Ramli, was one of the victims. This is Oppenheimer’s second movie about Indonesia’s bloody past, following “The Act of Killing,” which earned him an Oscar nod. That movie had a surreal feel: Men who participated in the death squads, now elderly, agreed to re-enact their gruesome deeds. “The Look of Silence” doesn’t have a brilliant gimmick, but it’s a more profoundly shattering movie. Oppenheimer observes one man’s attempt to understand his family’s loss. As is often the case in the aftermath of genocide, Adi’s family lives among the murderers in a forced harmony. But Adi has an idea. He’s an optometrist, who travels to people’s homes and fits them with glasses, which gives him the perfect opportunity to meet the men who killed his brother. He doesn’t want revenge. He’s looking for something that turns out to be more heartbreaking. He just wants to forgive them — if only they’d show some remorse.
Stephanie Merry,Washington Post

 

Samba
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for language.
Theater: Edina Cinema.

 

The immigrant experience is an ongoing 400-year story in America, but in France it’s new enough to keep popping up as a subject for contemporary films. Most of these films would be of minor interest to Americans, but “Samba” is in a whole other category. The French hit stars Omar Sy, who holds the screen like a true movie star. Samba (Sy) is an illegal immigrant, who has been working in a restaurant kitchen in Paris for 10 years, supporting himself while sending money back home to his family in Senegal. Something happens that brings him to the attention of the authorities, and the rest of the movie is about his legal struggle to remain in France. Samba is honest and hardworking — someone you’d want in your country. Over the course of the film, Samba strikes up a friendship with a social worker, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. The connection her character makes with Samba — real, complicated and not typical — is one of the movie’s highlights.
Mick LaSalle,San Francisco Chronicle

 

Dark Places
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: R for some disturbing violence, language, drug use and sexual content.
Theater: Mall of America.

 

For those who loved the twisty and twisted narrative of “Gone Girl,” this movie — also from novelist Gillian Flynn — just might scratch that itch. But without David Fincher’s chilly touch, “Dark Places” is just one step above a Lifetime TV movie. There are many pleasures to be found in this ooey-gooey murder melodrama, but highbrow it is not. Charlize Theron portrays the deeply troubled Libby Day, the only survivor of her family’s massacre, for which her brother Ben has been imprisoned since she was a child. Libby, down and out, is desperate for cash and gets drawn into an amateur “Kill Club,” a group of hobbyist true-crime sleuths. Libby subjects herself to their curiosity for money, but their insistence on Ben’s innocence leads her down the rabbit hole of her own memory, as she starts to question everything she believed — and testified to — at Ben’s trial. The generic thrills and the stellar cast are entertaining enough, even if it doesn’t quite stick the landing.
Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service