A single mom shelters a convicted killer.
That’s the plot of “Labor Day,” screened in the London Film Festival, with Kate Winslet playing Adele, the glum divorcee living in rural New Hampshire. Driving home one day with teenager Henry (Gattlin Griffith), she gives a ride to a dark, wounded stranger named Frank (Josh Brolin).
Frank quickly confesses to being a runaway prisoner; he’s jumped out of a hospital window after surgery and begs to stay the night. He proves so gallant, caring and useful around the house that Adele keeps him longer, even as TV news bulletins make clear he’s doing 18 years for murder.
Adapted from the Joyce Maynard novel, “Labor Day” is conventional storytelling -- and a change for Jason Reitman, who previously portrayed a cynical downsizer in “Up in the Air” (2009) and a quirky teenage mom-to-be in “Juno” (2007).
“Labor Day” gets sappy on occasion, such as when the trio set out to make peach pie and collectively plunge their hands into the same gooey bowl.
Winslet never stops moping, and you never forget that you’re watching the Oscar-winning actress. Brolin and young Griffith come to the rescue, though, making “Labor Day” a watchable movie. Rating: ***.
Alex Gibney -- who plotted the adventures of Julian Assange in “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” -- delivers an even more stinging portrait of cyclist Lance Armstrong in “The Armstrong Lie” (also screened at the London Film Festival).
Giving it extra bite is Gibney’s unusual access to his subject. The documentary was originally supposed to be about Armstrong’s comeback at the 2009 Tour de France; it ends up a close-up look at an athlete who dopes his way to seven Tour de France wins, then loses every title when the truth gets out.
Gibney splices footage of Armstrong before the revelations -- visiting cancer patients, denying doping charges, lambasting critics -- with confessions made on camera to Gibney after his January interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Armstrong admits, in great detail, that he took performance-enhancing drugs administered via blood transfusions to escape detection. On one leg of the Tour de France race, we find out, a bus breakdown was even faked to give him his fix.
The documentary makes chilling viewing, because it’s rare to see someone lie on camera as often as Armstrong did. It also shows the private side of the cyclist, an emotionally immature alpha male who never knew his dad and to whom defeat was worse than death. In the end, you’re left with conflicted feelings, reflecting Gibney’s own. Rating: ****.
“Labor Day” opens Jan. 31, 2014 in the U.S. and Feb. 7, 2014 in the U.K. “The Armstrong Lie” opens in the U.S. Nov. 8.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** So-so * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
Muse highlights include Frederik Balfour on Asian art, Ryan Sutton on food and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.