Films of the week: Our pick of movies based on true stories

With no new movies on release in cinemas this week reviewer Damon Smith shares his pick of films based on true stories, available to watch on digital platforms

Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, A Walk In The Woods
Damon Smith

BOY ERASED (15, 110 mins) Drama/Romance. Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwyn, Troye Sivan, Xavier Dolan. Director: Joel Edgerton. Streaming on Netflix from Thursday January 17

IN 2004, 19-year-old Baptist preacher's son Garrard Conley willingly entered a Love In Action facility in Tennessee to purge the homosexuality which put him at odds with his family's religious zeal.

Conley's nightmarish experiences of conversion therapy informed a best-selling memoir, Boy Erased.

Writer-director Joel Edgerton sensitively plunders this heartfelt text for a deeply moving and unsentimental dramatisation.

The film-maker casts himself as the pious counsellor in charge of malleable minds, who are encouraged to chant “I am using sexual sin and homosexuality to fill a God-shaped void in my life”.

Words cut to the bone and Lucas Hedges is heartbreaking as the teenage witness to controversial practices, including one harrowing scene of a family striking their terrified son with a Bible to drive out Satan from his body.

The script comes down firmly on one side of the conversion therapy argument and preaches quietly yet powerfully to the outraged.

DARK WATERS (12, 122 mins) Thriller/Romance. Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber. Director: Todd Haynes. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

A DOGGED fight for justice lasting more than 20 years exposes shady business practices and corporate greed in Dark Waters.

Inspired by the New York Times magazine article The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare, director Todd Haynes's slow-burning thriller details the ripple effect of a cover-up in 1970s West Virginia, where the man-made PFOA chemical used in the production of Teflon may have leaked into the water supply.

Screenwriters Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan infuse a conventional David versus Goliath legal wrangle with jangling paranoia reminiscent of The Parallax View.

Mark Ruffalo transforms from muscular Avengers superhero to a hunched, harangued lawyer, who shudders at the repercussions for his own family as he careens at sickening speed towards a physical breakdown.

By the time the end credits roll and a title card reveals the shocking extent of the chemical spill, our hackles are raised and any traces of PFOA in our bloodstream boil with indignation.

THE STRAIGHT STORY (U, 107 mins) Drama. Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Harry Dean Stanton, Jane Galloway Heitz, Joseph Carpenter. Director: David Lynch. Screening on Film4 on Monday January 18 at 11am

FORGET everything you think know about the work of weirdmeister David Lynch and his obsession with exposing the perversity of American suburbia. The Straight Story is, just as its title suggests, a simple and linear tale.

No supernatural killers, no blood, no perverse sex – just a true-life yarn about 73-year-old Iowa resident Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) who made a pilgrimage to see his seriously ill 76-year-old brother in Wisconsin, travelling the several hundred miles that separated them on a petrol-powered John Deere lawnmower.

Very little happens, bar an incident in which the mower's brakes fail on a steep hill, but this doesn't matter a jot because Alvin is such a wonderfully expressive character, brought vividly to life by veteran actor Farnsworth.

The Straight Story is undoubtedly Lynch's most accessible and conventional film (if, indeed, there is such a thing).

Beautifully photographed and acted, set against the greens and golds of rural Middle America, this is a thrilling, absorbing and poignant road movie in its truest sense.

UNBROKEN (15, 132 mins) War/Drama. Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Finn Wittrock, Vincenzo Amato. Director: Angelina Jolie. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

BASED on the book by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken documents the extraordinary true story of Louis Zamperini, who competed at the 1936 Olympic Games, survived a plane crash during the Second World War and then suffered at the hands of the Japanese in a PoW camp.

Director Angelina Jolie's admiration for her subject is evident in every gorgeously crafted frame of this life-affirming biopic, which is blessed with Roger Deakins's stunning cinematography and an elegiac score from composer Alexandre Desplat.

Wince-inducing scenes of cruelty warrant the film's 15 certificate but the violence always serves the narrative and is never gratuitous.

Emboldened by tour-de-force performances from Jack O'Connell as Zamperini and pop star Miyavi as his Japanese tormentor, Unbroken soars close to greatness.

Taking to heart the words of Louis's brother – “If you can take it, you can make it” – we stare into the heart of darkness with Zamperini, willing him to overcome his horrific ordeal.

A WALK IN THE WOODS (15, 100 mins) Comedy/Drama/Romance. Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Dame Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Kristen Schaal. Director: Ken Kwapis. Screening on Film4 on Saturday January 16 at 9pm and streaming on Amazon Prime Video

FOR several years, journalist and author Bill Bryson returned to America from Britain.

During this creatively fertile period, he hiked the physically demanding Appalachian Trail with good friend Stephen Katz, which provided the inspiration for the book A Walk In The Woods.

Ken Kwapis's film version retains the writer's wry sense of humour and episodic structure, gifting Nick Nolte a peach of a part as the crotchety sidekick, who wheezes and puffs in Bryson's shadow as they wander the 2,200 miles separating Georgia and Maine.

Robert Redford lends his dashing good looks to the lead role of family man Bryson, who hopes to get himself out of a rut by trekking the arduous route.

“Seriously Bill, even for you it's ridiculous!” despairs his wife Catherine (Emma Thompson).

Director Kwapis savours the comical set-pieces, including Katz's laundromat seduction of a woman whose silky smalls are snagged in one of the washing machines.

Hearty guffaws are nicely balanced with moments of introspection and regret.

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