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Film Capsules

In theaters this week

Meryl Streep's performance drives this biopic of Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister who's been a conservative pinup queen for 30 years. The movie opens late in Thatcher's life, when bad health has left her under virtual house arrest and she's relentlessly pursued by walking, talking hallucinations of her late, lovable-goof husband (Jim Broadbent). The movie follows Thatcher as she jumps from one memory to the next. The pace starts slow, mostly because we don't see much of the lady's iron upfront, as scenes shift between Thatcher's early days as a plucky grocer's daughter struggling to find footing in England's political scene (she's played by Alexandra Roach here) and her dementia-racked retirement. Once Streep steps in, the screen starts running with historical mayhem. Recession, strikes, riots, bombings — Thatcher's reign on Downing Street was marked by endless opportunity for heavy statesmanship, and Streep's PM handles each by adding another layer of ice to her resolve. It's the measured emotion Streep lets peek out from the tough exterior that makes the actress' performance award-worthy. (Kyle Swenson)

The Artist (PG-13) — You won't find a lovelier valentine to the movies than Michel Hazanavicius' black-and-white and near-silent tribute to the silent screen. In 1927 Hollywood, matinee idol George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is on top of the movie world. He even has the clout to give unknown dancer Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) a spot in one of his films. But then talking pictures begin to revolutionize the industry, and George brushes them off, setting in motion his slow but steady downfall just as Peppy's star ascends. The story is straight out of A Star Is Born, but the inspiration comes from 100 years of cinema. The Artist pulls back the curtain on moviemaking, but it also immerses itself in the magic of movies themselves, hitting all the right emotions without ever breaking from its purpose of entertaining you. (Michael Gallucci)

Carnage (R) — There are a number of 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. 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. There's no turn toward lesson-learned drama, thankfully, but no narrative engine ever cranks up either. (Lee Gardner)

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)

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)

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