Zero Dark Thirty Review (Kirk Haviland)

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Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez, Chris Pratt and James Gandolfini

Written by Mark Boal

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Returning to the big screen for the first time in four years, Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow goes back behind enemy lines to bring us Zero Dark Thirty. Zero Dark Thirty is the tale of the hunt and eventual termination of the world’s most wanted terrorist: Osama Bin Laden. The real question is can Kathryn Bigelow deliver a film based on the saga of the hunt for Bin Laden that is as gripping and thought provoking as The Hurt Locker?

Starting from the attacks of September 11 2001, exhibited here as only sounds over a pitch black screen, we follow the career of CIA operative Maya (Chastain) as she starts her decade long obsession into finding Osama Bin Laden. From bleak interrogation rooms in CIA black sites, Maya quickly learns under master interrogator Dan (Clarke) the extremes her fellow countrymen are willing to go to for leads and answers. Maya’s own obsession starts with trying to find the Abu Ahmed, allegedly one of Bin Laden’s most trusted men. The search continues for a decade, until an oversight is discovered that sets the movements in motion for the raid that ended Bin Laden’s life.

Zero Dark Thirty

As much as director Bigelow’s last theatrical film, 2008’s The Hurt Locker, was a mainly insular and ultimately star-making turn for Jeremy Renner, Zero Dark Thirty belongs utterly and completely to Jessica Chastain, and she is more than up to the task. We see her Maya go from a young, enthusiastic, hopeful lady to a hard-edged, worn and ferociously tenacious woman through the course of the film. The supporting cast, aside from strong turns from Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Ehle, are mainly background characters who help push the story along – this is Maya’s story. The only other actor given ample time is the impeccable Jason Clarke who is fantastic here. Clarke’s Dan becomes one of Maya’s most trusted allies in the fight for her desire to chase after Abu Ahmed when everyone else thinks she is chasing a ghost. The final scene with a imploding Maya as she realizes she has done nothing but chase this man for a decade and has forsaken everything else, including a place to actually call ‘home’ is pure cinematic brilliance in her performance.

Zero Dark Thirty

Boal has crafted another intelligent script that makes you feel like an insider, behind the walls where all the decisions are made. Bigelow has made a smart choice in going with mainly traditional camera and not all handheld like Hurt Locker was, which plays so much better considering the more epic scale of the story being told. Her framing works very well and the steady hand behind the camera keeps the story focused and on point with Maya, even when it does go off on tangents like Ehle’s character, Jessica’s meeting with a potential spy within Al Queda, it returns it focus back to Maya almost immediately. The film is hardly short with a running time slightly over 2 ½ hours, but the time flies by as the film itself is enveloping and never feels like it is taking too long to get anywhere. In fact its running time will likely be shocking by the end of the film. The careful recreating and crafting of the sets and locations lends another level of authenticity, the Bin Laden compound looks pitch perfect and the other compounds and black sites are painstakingly recreated.

Zero Dark Thirty

Never feeling like an over the top propaganda film, in fact Zero Dark Thirty is pleasantly devoid of a lot of those politics and shines a harsh light on some of the practices of US interrogators. Zero Dark Thirty is an enthralling account of the hunt for one man and the obsession of one woman. A more complete, grand scale and satisfying film than Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty stands to be Bigelow’s most accomplished and rewarding film to date. Zero Dark Thirty is a strong recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Lawless Review (Kirk Haviland)

Lawless (2012)

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pierce, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Noah Taylor and Gary Oldman

Written by Nick Cave based on the novel by Matt Bondurant

Directed by John Hillcoat

New to theaters this week from Alliance Entertainment Canada is Lawless, a fictionalized accounting of the true story of the Bondurant brothers and their exploits bootlegging moonshine. The star-studded cast under director Hillcoat attempt to provide a prohibition era gangster epic, but do they succeed or go up in flames like a still set to blow?

Photo courtesy of Alliance Pictures

In the mountains of Franklin County, Virginia, the Bondurant brothers are the stuff of legend: Howard (Clarke), the eldest, survived the war; Forrest (Hardy), the brains of the outfit, nearly died from the Spanish Flu that took his parents but gained a reputation of immortality due to his perseverance; and Jack (LaBeouf), the youngest, is impulsive, impetuous and eager to join the family occupation. Times are tough and jobs are scarce, but the Bondurants are entrepreneurs and have built a thriving local business by concocting an intense and popular brand of moonshine. But the arrival of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Pearce) from Chicago threatens to derail their business. Corrupt as the day is long, the family rallies to fight Rakes, while Jack’s ambitions and enterprises alter the fortunes of the brothers’ affairs. With the help of friend Cricket (DeHaan), Jack starts to prosper, even selling moonshine to Floyd Banner (Oldman), the big city gangster he idolizes. And while two of the Bondurants are soon under the spell of two beautiful women: the exotic, steadfast Maggie (Chastain), and the quiet, pious Bertha (Wasikowska), Rakes intensifies his efforts resulting in deadly consequences for all.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Pictures

Lawless is a solid outing, far from spectacular, but a fun, entertaining time at the multiplex. The script and dialogue are merely functional to drive the story along, although there are some genuinely hilarious moments. That said, there is a lot more fiction involved here than not – ‘based on a true story’ really should read ‘inspired by’. The set design looks and feels like a backlot the whole time, lending it a 70’s film feel that in retrospect may have been intentional, with a bar/house that looks like it came straight out of Silverado and other films of the like. The casting works to varying degrees. LeBeouf is clearly the weak link here, not necessarily because he’s awful, but his performance is just lacklustre. Hardy, as usual, really makes an effort to steal every scene and he succeeds with ease, managing to elevate the quality of the material and the movie as a whole with his presence. The supporting cast does decent work, with Pearce absolutely relishing his old school ‘moustache twirling’ bad guy archetype and DeHaan showing that he is really becoming someone to keep an eye on after this and his turn in Chronicle (one of my first reviews) earlier this year. Hillcoat’s direction is one of the other highlights here as the pacing is strong and the film moves at a refreshingly fast clip. Ultimately though, Lawless is the type of film you can safely walk out of not feeling as you’ve wasted you money on, but half an hour later you’ll be hard pressed to remember anything about it except for Hardy.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Pictures

Lawless is ultimately far from the worst fare out in theaters right now, but it’s also easily forgettable. For a reasonable night out at the movies you could do far worse. Lawless is a mild recommend.

Lawless opens in theaters nationwide on today, Wednesday August 29th.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto.

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