One of cinema’s most constant motifs is the flawed, morally corrupt character who in the last reel listens to his conscience and decides to do the right thing. There’s a good reason for this: Audiences know all too well how easy it is to be a “good German,” and desperately wish it weren’t so. You often know whether you’re watching mainstream or art-house cinema simply by whether the protagonist changes for the better (as in “Gran Torino” or “True Grit”) or stays hopelessly the same (“Hidden,” “The Conformist”).

Not always, though: This month sees a pair of very different films that shuffle the assumptions enough to keep you hooked to the end; both reflect the complex times in which we live by showing how even doing “the right thing” can involve collateral damage.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.