- - Sunday, July 10, 2011

New Releases

Rango

Paramount Home Video

★★★½

Johnny Depp gives voice to director Gore Verbinski’s (“Pirates of the Caribbean” 1-3) offbeat lizard hero in this clever and smartly crafted animated feature. Mr. Depp is Lars, a pet chameleon who accidentally ends up on his own in the middle of the desert. He stumbles into the town of Dirt, which is populated by a variety of desert-dwelling animals. Adopting the name of Rango, Lars becomes town sheriff and begins cleaning it up. When one very bad hombre (named Road Kill) and a potential double cross of Dirt’s citizens threaten everyone’s future, it’s up to Rango to find the courage and wisdom to save the day.

Mr. Verbinski and screenwriter John Logan have created a tale that echoes and celebrates the conventions found in Western films such as “High Noon” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” In fact, the movie is loaded with allusions to other films, including “The Godfather” and “Pulp Fiction.” The more movies you know, the more enjoyment you’ll get out of “Rango.” Some slightly intense scenes may be scary for the smallest of small fry, so parents probably should watch with them. However, the film works on enough levels that viewers of different ages should have a good time.

Released in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack with a digital download copy, “Rango” is chock-full of extras, including an extended version of the film with a never-before-seen alternative ending and featurettes about the partnership between Mr. Verbinski and special effects powerhouse Industrial Light & Magic in creating the movie’s distinctive look, and one about the real-life desert animals that inspired the characters. With the summer animated offerings limited so far to the pleasant but unspectacular “Cars 2,” “Rango” will be a welcome arrival when it hits store shelves Friday. MPAA Rating: PG, for some intense images.

The Lincoln Lawyer

Lionsgate Home Video

★★★½

Matthew McConaughey’s best lead performance in several years is just one of the highlights in this sharply drawn legal thriller, based on the best-selling novel by Michael Connelly. Mr. McConaughey is Mick Haller, a Los Angeles-based criminal defense lawyer who works mostly out of the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car. He’ll take on any client … who can pay his fee. He can work the system with seemingly effortless skill and a smile. When the son of a California real estate magnate (Ryan Phillippe) is accused of a brutal rape, Mick sees a chance to rise in status if he can win the case. But what initially appears to be a significant and legitimate victory begins to change course, leaving Mick with a moral and legal dilemma that could cost him his career — and more.

Mr. McConaughey delivers the kind of layered, multidimensional performance that has been missing from his recent films. He is well supported by the film’s cast, which includes Marisa Tomei as Mick’s ex-wife and fellow lawyer, John Leguizamo as a courthouse tipster who steers clients to Haller and Frances Fisher (“Unforgiven”) as Ryan Phillippe’s mother. Brad Furman’s direction and John Romano’s screenplay mesh to keep the film’s suspense sharp while developing the characters.

Released in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack with a digital download copy, “The Lincoln Lawyer” extras include deleted scenes, a feature on the making of the film, one on Michael Connelly and a joint interview with Mr. Connelly and Mr. McConaughey.

This is a legal thriller that wins its case for repeated viewings; it’s just that good. MPAA Rating: R for profanity, violence and sexual content.

Documentaries

The Thin Blue Line

MGM Home Video

★★★★

The recent death of Randall Adams at age 61 provides a good reason to take another look at the 1988 film that helped free Adams from a Texas prison’s Death Row. Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris (“The Fog of War”) spent 2½ years researching, tracking down witnesses and painstakingly re-creating the murder of a Texas police officer, the crime for which Adams, an unemployed drifter, had been convicted and sentenced to death. The director’s efforts revealed a series of mistakes, deceptions and outright lies that ignored facts and nearly led to the state-sanctioned killing of an innocent man.

Mr. Morris worked as a private investigator before becoming a filmmaker and displays a remarkable skill for holding viewers’ attention while thoroughly exploring the case down to the smallest details. Two ironies about “The Thin Blue Line”: First, despite all that Mr. Morris did for him, Adams sued him in an attempt to get a share of the profits from the movie (there weren’t any, and the case was dismissed). Second, despite all the acclaim the film received, it failed to nab an Oscar nomination for best documentary feature. At least you can see what the Academy missed. MPAA Rating: Unrated, but contains some profanity and re-creations of violent behavior.

Back of the Rack

The Widow of Saint-Pierre

Lionsgate Home Video

★★★★

This week’s Back of the Rack pick spotlights the work of French director Patrice Leconte. Despite a string of critically acclaimed films (“Man on the Train,” “My Best Friend” and “The Hairdresser’s Husband” among them), he lacks the international following of a Francois Truffaut or Jean-Luc Godard. This film is one of his finest.

Set on the small island of St. Pierre in the 1850s, “The Widow of Saint-Pierre” tells the story of August, who in a drunken stupor kills Jean, the captain of a fishing boat. August is sentenced to death, but must wait for a new guillotine to be sent from Paris. In the meantime, August begins working while imprisoned. His efforts help make the island a better place to live. He even attempts to reach out to the captain’s widow (Juliette Binoche) and make some sort of reparation for her loss. By the time the guillotine arrives, August is no longer the man he was when the killing took place, but the law demands he be put to death. What will prevail — justice or mercy?

With this absorbing and compelling drama, Mr. Leconte supplies a great deal of food for thought and discussion. Miss Binoche, Daniel Auteuil as Jean and Emir Kusturica as August do excellent work. As the story unfolds, their characters reveal elements of themselves that add to the film’s emotional impact. A rich and sweeping tale, “Widow” provides a superb introduction to a gifted filmmaker’s work. MPAA Rating: R, for brief violence and sexual content.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Joe Barber is entertainment editor for WTOP-FM radio and a critic/panelist for WETA-TV’s “Around Town.”