CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (12A) (All major cinemas)

TOM Hanks may have hit it big at the box office with The Da Vinci Code but he suffered some of the worst reviews of his career.

With his latest picture, he may find the situation reversed. He is receiving enormous praise for his portrayal of good old boy politician Charlie Wilson but the immensely complicated nature of the true story may struggle to find a wider audience.

Everyone knows about the fall of the Soviet regime in 1989 and as far as the American role in the historic events was concerned, most of the credit went to Ronald Reagan.

Director Mike Nichols’ film – based on George Crile's bestseller and adapted for the screen by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin – tells the largely unknown story behind the scenes and the crucial parts played by three well placed individuals.

Wilson himself was a hard-drinking womaniser growing bored with his lascivious lifestyle and eager to do something to bring meaning to his existence.

With the help of millionaire socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) and maverick CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), he manages to broker an unthinkable deal between Israel and Pakistan to supply weapons to the freedom fighting Afghans in their war with invading Russia.

The fact that those freedom fighters evolved into the US-hating Taliban laces this entire story with a delicious irony that Nichols is not slow to highlight.

This is witty, intelligent, wordy material played to perfection by three stars on outstanding form. It has already been showered with Golden Globe nominations and you can expect that to be repeated when Oscar time comes around shortly.


DAN IN REAL LIFE (12A) (All major cinemas)

MUCH like the on screen persona in which he specialises, Steve Carell is quietly building an extremely impressive body of work which continues with a romantic comedy which, for once, appeals to both head and heart.

The film has an astonishingly slight premise: single dad of three girls meets a charming woman who gives him her phone number but turns out to be his brother’s new girlfriend.

All parties end up assembled at Carell’s parents’ massive beach house for Thanksgiving weekend where the attraction between our hero and his new acquaintance (irresistably played by Juliette Binoche) grows by the minute.

Director Peter Hedges - who wrote the screenplays for About A Boy and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? – never resorts to obvious slapstick humour to get his laughs and populates the film with a top notch supporting cast including John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest.


BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (15) (All major cinemas)

WHETHER it is music, books or movies, most artistic talents tend to fade with age with a few notable exceptions, one of which is undoubtedly film director Sidney Lumet.

Now 83, the man who has produced such enduring classics as 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Network, Dog Day Afternoon - the list goes on - has now come up with a picture which deserves a place among those greats.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (impressive yet again) and Ethan Hawke play brothers who have their own reasons for teaming up to stage what they believe will be the perfect jewel heist.

That plot point and the fact it all goes badly wrong make this sound like a cliched affair – far from it. Lumet is far more concerned with the back story of these brothers and the shattering consequences of their actions.