SEE Zero Dark Thirty, the suspenseful thriller from Kathryn Bigelow which chronicles the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. This picture represents the next clear step in Bigelow’s evolution from making action films to making complex films framed by the action in them.
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This film also features the amazing and vastly underrated Jessica Chastain as Maya, the CIA specialist who refuses to give up on bringing down terrorist public enemy #1. In the hands of a lesser actress, Maya would be an over the top modern-day Ahab, or a perky Norma Rae in spywear. Instead, she injects such a tremendous dose of realism into the character that we see all sides of her: impossible to like, impossible not to respect, tremendously effective. It’s a smoldering performance that is vastly different from her past work, like the desperate concern she embodied in Take Shelter.
Bigelow takes a huge risk at the end of this film, by focusing exclusively on the Seal Team Six mission which, by definition, leaves out the lead character who’s been carrying the film to that point.
It pays off. Zero Dark Thirty easily eclipses any controversies its political content may hold and stands as one of the outstanding pictures of the year.
YOUR CALL on Killing Them Softly from writer/director Andrew Dominik. Offbeat gangsters talking about offbeat topics have been the rage ever since John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson riffed on McDonald’s in France in Pulp Fiction, and the resulting films range from almost-as-cool to pointless. This one falls in between.
Killing Them Softly features that same atmospheric underworld coolness that characterizes the genre, bolstered by a strong cast. The somewhat meandering story is held together by the performances, which are the highlight of the film. James Gandolfini’s damaged, burned out hitman probably should have had a bit more of a piece of the story, however, as his scenes were the most compelling the picture had to offer.
In the end, flippant emotionlessness and cynicism cost the movie a bit. This is a picture that wants to make sure you know it doesn’t give a flying f*ck. The risk is that the audience may not, either.
YOUR CALL on Smashed, writer/director James Ponsoldt’s character study of an alcohol-addicted married couple (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul) and how their relationship falls apart.
This picture features two great performances, in particular some marvelous support from Paul, but comes across as more of a “snapshot.” You get a realistic look at an alcoholic couple at one point in time, but the story doesn’t really go anywhere from there. The very short run time (81 minutes) doesn’t allow it to, and you’re left wondering if the indie production just ran out of film, ran out of story, or both.
SEE Les Miserables, the grand adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel of life in post-revolutionary France.
This film is all sight and sound and fury, but ultimately is driven by a string of memorable performances from Hugh Jackman, Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway, some good comic relief from Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, and a real eye opening turn from relative newcomer Samantha Barks. Even Russell Crowe is a better singer than you’ve led to believe.
In a Hollywood suffering from a dearth of great musicals, this one is a welcome addition to the long tradition of great films of the past. Not for everyone (musicals never are), but for fans of the genre, a real treat.