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Film Capsules

In theaters this week

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There are a number of actorly pleasures to be found in Roman Polanski's Carnage, which should be no surprise given the cast: Christophe Waltz, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, and Jodie Foster. Waltz and Winslet's 11-year-old son thwacked Reilly and Foster's 11-year-old in the mouth with a stick during a playground spat, and the action opens on a typewritten agreement of blame and wrong signed by both parties. As the small talk over coffee and cobbler goes on, passive-aggressive feints go out and smug defenses go up. As passions rise, recriminations fly, and the scotch comes out. As tends to happen in these chamber pieces, allegiances shift, with the men lining up against the women, the spouses against each other. Carnage works well enough as hit-and-run satire of polite middle-class veneer, yuppie smugness, and general pretensions to maturity. But as an overall film, it fails. Polanski displays his usual tight camera control, but that isn't so hard since the action never leaves the apartment. There's no turn toward lesson-learned drama, thankfully, but no narrative engine ever cranks up either. Rated R. (Lee Gardner)

The Descendants (R) — Matt King (George Clooney) is away on business when he gets word that his wife is in a coma after a boat accident. Suddenly he's responsible for not only raising two troubled daughters, but also telling family and friends that he's taking his wife off life support. Plus, he finds out that she'd been cheating on him. Director Alexander Payne (Sideways) laces The Descendants with equal doses of humor and drama, and Clooney gives one of his most affective performances. It's Clooney and Payne's most emotionally taxing work, and it's Clooney who keeps the movie on course. (Michael Gallucci)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (R) — David Fincher's thrilling take on the first chapter of the Millennium Trilogy doesn't reinvent the story of an investigative journalist who gets involved with a pierced and tattooed troublemaker, but it does cast it in a new, eye-opening light. The plot remains the same: Writer Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) looks into the disappearance of a girl 40 years earlier. Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) — an antisocial, bisexual computer hacker who may or may not be a little insane — helps him. Lisbeth is a cold, calculating, and complex young woman with as much baggage as secrets, and Mara nails the pale, androgynous tones that have made Lisbeth one of the most vibrant characters of the past decade. The story is a slow build, but the movie burns with an energy that's missing in the original Swedish version. (Gallucci)

J. Edgar (R) — Clint Eastwood's stirring biopic looks at long-running FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (played with spot-on self-satisfaction by Leonardo DiCaprio), a conflicted egomaniac whose personal agendas often broke the laws he had sworn to uphold. The movie crisscrosses eras and historical highlights from Hoover's life, but it isn't flashy — that's not Eastwood's style. It is supremely well-made, directed with insight and reverence and skepticism for Hoover and his story. (Gallucci)

Like Crazy (PG-13) — Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and newcomer Felicity Jones play Jacob and Anna, two attractive college kids who meet cute during class and immediately fall in love. They relate to one another in intimate, clipped conversations that were mostly improvised by the actors, and Jacob, an American furniture-design major, builds Anna, a British journalism student, a wooden chair to prove his devotion. Eventually, it's time for Anna to return home for the summer and renew her student visa. When their reunion moment comes, there's a snag: Anna's visa has been revoked. These are awful ties that bind long-distance relationships. Like Crazy is disappointingly incurious about them. (Strout)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (R) — Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson stages this story of a Cold War-era spy with quiet thrills and dense suspense. There's a mole in the British agency, and it's likely one of the spies in the inner circle. Called out of retirement, George Smiley (expertly played by Gary Oldman) sifts through notes, snoops around apartments, and assembles the tiny pieces that may lead back to one of his colleagues. Like any spy story worth its double- and triple-crosses, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy gets confusing. But once things settle into place, the movie begins to take shape. It doesn't stray too far from other Cold War dramas that leave some room for a little gray between the black and the white. But it's smarter than most of them. (Gallucci)

War Horse (PG-13) — At two and a half hours, Steven Spielberg's family drama can feel as long as war itself. But with so many movies abandoning classic filmmaking for digital gimmickry these days, there's something admirably quaint about the director's old-fashioned approach to the story about a horse and his adventures during World War I. (Gallucci)

We Bought a Zoo (PG) — Matt Damon plays a writer and recent widower with two kids and a huge hole in his life. To get back on track, he packs up the family and — wait for it — buys a broken-down zoo. He also acquires a kinda-girlfriend in Scarlett Johansson as the comely but too-busy-for-a-social-life zookeeper in charge of the ragtag staff. We Bought a Zoo is Cameron Crowe's most sentimental and conventional movie, but the sweetness of it all will smother you. (Gallucci)

Young Adult (R) — Even though Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is on a mission to win back her high-school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), who's now married with a newborn, it's hard not to love her. She considers herself lucky to have escaped the rural mediocrity of her hometown for the "big city." But after she gets an e-mail blast from Buddy's brood with a photo of their adorable new baby, something just snaps. So Mavis heads home to reclaim her glory. In her stupor, she meets Matt (Patton Oswalt), a decent guy who feels compelled to stay by her side and talk her out of her plan. What unfolds is a remarkably honest film built around Theron's endlessly complicated performance. (Strout)

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