James Gandolfini had already laid the ghost of iconic TV Mob boss Tony Soprano to rest with his final film before his death in the summer of 2013.
He plays a money-launderer in off-kilter but characterful Brooklyn gangster story THE DROP (15: Twentieth Century Fox).
Tom Hardy stars as bartender Bob Saginowski, a loner who works for his cousin Marv (Gandolfini) at his neighbourhood bar.
The bar is Marv’s in name only because after selling up to an Eastern European gang, he simply launders money for his new bosses, a position of weakness the old-school Italian-American finds hard to tolerate.
A robbery then turns up the heat for the pair as they are expected to find and replace the mobsters’ missing cash.
But what threatens to become a routine heist-gone-wrong drama soon goes in another direction, with Bob blundering into a love triangle with the enigmatic Nadia (Noomi Rapace) and the vicious Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts).
The tone is uneven, and the ending a little queasy, but The Drop’s chemistry between the characters keeps the minimal plot ticking over nicely.
> THE HOMESMAN (15: Entertainment One) is a Western that gives Hilary Swank the opportunity to show what a great actor she can be with the right material.
She stars as feisty pioneer-woman Mary Bee Cuddy, who volunteers to transport back to Iowa three women from her town who have all been driven mad by the hard life on the Nebraska plains.
Tommy Lee Jones, who also writes and directs, plays George, a shady claim-jumper she saves from hanging and then press-gangs into accompanying her. So begins an arduous journey with a geographical trajectory that follows from west to east and a third-act shock that changes the terms dramatically.
It’s a tough-minded, intelligent movie, the kind John Wayne would probably have hated, and Jones’ direction is stylish and assured. Very much a 21st Century update for the genre.
> The essence of Michael Bond’s much-loved character could easily have been betrayed by modernising the setting and plot. But have no fear as PADDINGTON (PG: Studio Canal) is a class act.
After a prologue set in darkest Peru, the eponymous young bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) moves into the west London household of the Brown family (led by parents Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins).
Although mishaps aplenty soon ensue, Paddington eventually wins their affections. But can they keep him safe from the clutches of a mysterious, stiletto-heeled taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) who’s hellbent on adding his hide to a collection at the Natural History Museum?
While children will break out in fits of giggles over the well-timed slapstick sequences, adults will probably relish the wink-wink grown-up jokes. At its heart, this is a deeply British film, as comforting as Christmas pantomimes, double-decker buses and hot milky tea.
> NO GOOD DEED (15: Sony) sees Taraji P. Henson play a mother fighting to get through the night when an escaped killer (Idris Elba) turns up on her doorstep during a storm.
Elba makes the most of his imposing stature and booming voice to create an effective villain. It’s a shame, then, that his performance is let down by an utterly unoriginal story.
While serviceable as a late-night thriller, it’s predictable to the point where you can call the action before it happens.