Rating: The Good – 76 Genre: War, Drama Duration: 130 mins Director: Joseph Sargent Stars: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kiera Knightley
Movies recounting humankind’s gruelling attempts to overcome nature’s obstacles tend to be either underproduced and rather dull affairs or overproduced and predictably brainless action movies so it’s a welcome surprise when we come across one that so effectively balances the internal and external factors to the story as much as Baltasar Kormákur’s film does. Couched in a comfortable budget, Everest captures the visceral wonder of the experience but maintains the writing and acting as its prize assets. And with a cast of A-listers all willing to do their bit for far less billing than their status normally demands, it pays dividends. Jason Clark hits all the right notes as the expedition leader and Josh Brolin and John Hawkes add handsomely to the medley of emotional tribulation while Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Worthington, Kiera Knightley, and Robin Wright help shape both the story’s physical and personal contexts so that theme and drama meet harmoniously in the middle. Not everyone will be happy with Kormákur’s aversion to set piece action but those with an appreciation for attritional authenticity should find his adventure rather compelling.
Rating: The Good – 80.4 Genre: Thriller, Drama Duration: 157 mins Director: Kathryn Bigelow Stars: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt
The search for Osama Bin Laden was always going to make a thrilling story but few would’ve expected it to be depicted in the manner Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty did. Rather than give us a sprawling manhunt full of thrills and close calls or a tense forensic investigative mystery, she and her writer Mark Boal offer up something more contemplative and altogether more unorthodox. Jessica Chastain plays the driven young agent who is charged with fulfilling the increasingly unpopular remit of finding the world’s most wanted man. Beginning in 2003, we see the eroding yet hardening effect the eight year manhunt has on her as she moves from one source to another (the infamous “detainees”) trying to piece together the puzzle from their scant accounts. The controversial torture scenes are incorporated incidentally and without judgement (this shouldn’t be mistaken for approval) so that an overall picture is painted. This of course encourages a more objective assessment of the entire affair and lets the viewers make up their own minds. It’s the personality of the main players that keeps the audience interested during the protracted first and second acts, watching them wear and tear in relation to the pressure of a fruitless endeavour and changes in political climate. Chastain is real and reveals a curiously compelling strength but there’s no doubt her character can grate (there are a few misjudged brattish moments where she genuinely tests the audience’s loyalty). Jason Clarke is excellent as the lead investigator and Jennifer Ehle shows yet again how important she can be to a movie in a well written support role.
As he did with The Hurt Locker, Boal shows that script writing is not his first trade. The structure is almost alien to what we are used to but thanks to the uniqueness of the story and a more refined working relationship with Bigelow, they manage to steer this one home. The first two acts can be slow going but there’s an organic flow to the chapters and events as they unfold. There’s also a serious payout because during the final act when we leave Chastain’s character and pick up with the SEAL team who execute the ultimate search and destroy mission, this films morphs into sleekest depiction of stealth warfare we’ve ever witnessed on film. A series of rugged and grizzled looking men (a mix between lesser known actors and actual former SEALs) begin to fill the cast and Greig Fraser’s cinematography comes into its own as the bleached deserts of day time Pakistan are replaced with the steely grey of the extended night-time mission. The action is slick, real, and very hardcore for when the SEALs aren’t busy surviving helicopter crashes and improvising their entries they’re executing their plan and training with formidable precision. And it’s in this feature that the true strength of Zero Dark Thirty is revealed. It’s authenticity. Based on real life accounts and informed by a team of consultants, this film pulses with realism. Everything in this film from the experimental stealth helicopters, the four goggle night vision apparatus, to the relatively more modest even humdrum tools of the earlier investigation (with the exception of that cool “predator bay”) feels legitimate. And when combined with Bigelow’s methodical buildup and tightly controlled tension, it all amounts to a cinematic experience that is genuinely unique and immensely competent.