Tag Archives: Matt Damon

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Interstellar (2014) 3.7/5 (8)

 

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Rating: The Good – 71.5
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure
Duration: 169 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Michael Caine, Matt Damon

An elegantly directed sci-fi adventure considerably undermined by yet another painfully flat Nolan screenplay, Interstellar charts the epic attempts of a small group of scientists and astronauts to locate a planet capable of supporting the human race as its Earthly sustenance quickly dries up. Mathew McConaughey heads the cast as the mission’s pilot desperate to get back to the children he left behind before they age beyond the point where he can help them while Ann Hathaway’s stiffish scientist and a couple of nicely conceived robots keep him company on board the spacecraft. Back on Earth, Michael Caine is the brains behind the mission, Jessica Chastain is the grown up version of McConaughey’s equally clever daughter, and Casey Affleck is his son who, like the majority of remaining humans, is attempting to farm what’s left of their desertification-headed planet.

Regaining his 2008 Dark Knight directorial form, writer-director Christopher Nolan composes a quite beautiful and thrilling action thriller that achieves a perfect balance between mood and energy with no small help from Hans Zimmer’s sublime score. Making the deftest use of Hoyte Van Hoytema’s stark and striking cinematography, he avoids overplaying the CGI card keeping the story front and centre. The story isn’t bad either and, predictable as its key moments are, it serves Nolan’s grand ambitions for a Kubrickian like space epic. More the pity then that the screenplay does not. Bloated with expositional dialogue and artificial sentiment, it bungles its way towards a gargantuan mishandling of a straightforward (“save the world before it’s too late”) premise with the kind of overblown piece of psycho-physical drivel that plagued Inception. Co-penned with his more adept writer-brother (Jonathan sat Inception out), this script at least shows more restraint than that 2010 monument to tedium but not nearly enough to engender its protagonists nor their dilemmas with the depth and cadences that the premise deserved. The well conceived drama emerging from the astronauts ageing more slowly than their loved ones back home is an exception to this and proves to be the movie’s one successful appeal to the audience’s emotions.

Ultimately, the problem with Interstellar is yet again one of Nolan reaching beyond his capabilities by attempting to match the work of masters who simply operated at a level higher than his own (that’s not an insult Chris, most filmmakers toil in the shadows of Kubrick and Tarkovsky!). The innumerable references to 2001: A Space Odyssey eventually feel less like a homage and more like an attempt to disguise that failure, proving far more imitative than emulative. That said, the couple of HAL-inspired robots (the Bill Irwin-voiced “TARS” in particular) work fantastically within the confines of this story, coming alive in a whirl of mechanised motion during the best of the action sequences and adding most of the humour outside of them. And, thankfully, it’s these such lighter more grounded touches that sees Interstellar passing muster as a sci-fi thriller even while failing as an attempt at something more profound.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001) 3.57/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 72.5
Genre: Crime
Duration: 116 mins
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia RobertsMatt Damon

Steven Soderbergh and friends take a working holiday in Las Vegas for this entertaining reworking of the Rat Pack’s heist comedy. George Clooney fills Sinatra’s shoes as Danny Ocean, the recently paroled con-man who assembles a motley crew to take down Andy Garcia’s ruthless casino owner while simultaneously nabbing his ex-wife (Julia Roberts) back from his clutches. Brad Pitt is the Dean Martin sidekick while Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, and Elliot Gould among a couple of others complete the rest of the gang. A party-mode Soderbergh unleashes every bit of his directorial panache to craft the entire affair into an interminably slick feast for the eyes and ears – with a production budget to match (not content with taking over actual casinos, they even staged a title fight between Wladimir Klitshcko and Lennox Lewis). Playing the coolest versions of themselves, the cast cruise their way through the complicated and very well executed heist in a manner befitting the project’s ambitions with David Holmes’ repetitive but impossibly suave compositions providing the most complementary soundtrack imaginable. If it sounds, like a “can’t-miss” type of movie, allay your excitement somewhat because, though eminently fun, its lack of depth ensures that it’s a little cold. In the final analysis, Ocean’s Eleven is what you get when a bunch of talented movie guys spitball a movie concept around a poker table at 3 am. Lots of well conceived but ultimately stand alone moments in desperate need of some serious screenwriting to bind them together.

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Syriana

Syriana (2005) 3.97/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 84.4
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Duration: 128 mins
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Christopher Plummer

For a film that boasts lots of stars and acting talent, Syriana is a rather more unorthodox thriller than we might expect. Set amid the world of oil trading and based on Robert Baer’s book, it follows Amirs, petroleum executives, senators, high profile lawyers, terrorists, and CIA agents as they engage each other in a global chess match where the tool is geographical instability and the prize is power. The result is a collage of intersecting plots that thrill on a variety of dramatic levels. Political machinations, corporate intrigue, religious extremism, cultural ambition, and personal tribulation all bound together with coherence and momentum.

An ambitious project to be sure but one that succeeds due to a tight script and intelligent directing which combine to give a story of such scale much focus while, at all times, giving the audience the benefit of the doubt. Nothing is spoon-fed here as every deal, negotiation, and conversation is veiled and approached at an angle. Much is left for the audience to work out, a tactic that encourages them to invest in the story. But what really defines Stephen Gaghan’s film is its overarching sense of realism. The plot is allowed to increment forward in a manner where little looks to be happening but where a lot feels like it is. A triumph of efficient directing where each character is embellished richly with a mere half-glance or dinner order. Back-room wheeling and dealing portrayed so incidentally that what would appear outlandish comes across as chillingly real.

And the cast contribute strongly too. George Clooney puts in an Oscar winning turn as a spy very much caught between two worlds and cultures, who is sent to Beirut on CIA business only to be frozen out when things go wrong. Jeffrey Wright is deviousness personified as the Washington lawyer asked by his sinister senior partner Christopher Plummer to take a closer look at a merger between two oil giants, one of which, is headed up by the always excellent Chris Cooper. A host of other top names and some talented newcomers fill out the lesser roles but it’s fair to say everybody plays second fiddle to the intricate plot. That it all plays towards a deeply moving and emotional crescendo is what precludes this almost experimental political burner from unravelling. Instead, it seems to cohere rather impressively and honestly around some unappetising home truths and leave everyone thinking. Impressive indeed.

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Saving Private Ryan (1998) 3.79/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 55.3
Genre: War
Duration: 169 mins
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore

After successfully landing in Normandy on D-Day, a platoon of US Marines are sent on a unique mission of mercy to locate and bring to safety a soldier whose brothers have all been killed in action. Naturally, the orders put the men’s perspective on duty and morality at odds with one another as the needs of the few are seen to outweigh the needs of the many. Outside of the opening sequence which is undeniably terrific, Saving Private Ryan is a largely ham-fisted affair when placed side-by-side with the great WWII movies. Steven Spielberg shows little patience or subtlety and rather than giving us a real picture of humanity and war in the manner of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (released the same year), he instead falls back on a cartoon depiction of good guys versus bad guys. The greater success of this film comparative to Malick’s film, would seem to be therefore attributable entirely to the first 15 mins  – a battle sequence so spectacular and visceral that it seems to act as a cloak for the rest of the film – as if the audience will be so desperate for the remainder of the film to be worthy of its opening that they will willfully ignore the most blatant of shortcomings. The simple truth is that the remainder of the film is driven by childish and cliched moral quandaries the likes of which were addressed just as superficially and ad nauseum throughout years of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its spin-offs. But it wouldn’t be nearly as frustrating if Spielberg wasn’t (as usual) trying to ram the sickly sweet sentimentality (so primitively intertwined with cardboard notions of patriotism) down the audience’s throats. This is something he has done for far too long now and with too few exceptional interludes to excuse it. This is not to say Spielberg is a poor director. He’s a truly brilliant director who just lives up to his talent far too seldom due to an over-reliance on visual effects and/or reluctance to move out of his comfort zone.

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The Bourne Supremacy (2004) 1.21/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 76.4
Genre: Action, Thriller
Duration: 108 mins
Director: Paul Greengrass
Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Joan Allen

Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity may have changed the way action films would be made for the following decade but it was Paul Greengrass’ two sequels that ensured that all those influenced by the Bourne franchise would just be pale imitations. The Bourne Supremacy is the film that made all action heroes before or since look like amateurs. Matt Damon returns as the amnesiac assassin who is roped back into the murky world of the CIA when his girlfriend (Franka Potente) is killed in an attempt on his life. Joan Allen comes on board as the CIA agent charged with pursuing Bourne and Brian Cox is back as the former leader of Bourne’s unit.

Damon is just terrific as the stoic spy extraordinaire and with every glance, stare, word, and sentence he intrigues his audience with the unshakable notion of a razor sharp edge and a cast iron core. As good as Damon is though, it’s the set-pieces that make this franchise what it is and The Bourne Supremacy is a glowing testament to that. The action is simply sensational and Greengrass effectively uses his documentary-making skills to give every bit of it an ultra-real feel. Whether it’s hand-to-hand combat or car chases he and his hand-held camera up the ante on the first film by a factor of 10 with the final car chase in particular being a staggering feat of stunt choreography. In fact, while many movie car chases have and will continue to be remembered better, there has arguably never been a sequence so well conceived and flawlessly executed than what Greengrass and company serve up here.

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The Bourne Identity (2002) 2.71/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 71.4
Genre: Action Thriller
Duration: 119 mins
Director: Doug Liman
Screenplay: Tony Gilroy, W. Blake Herron
Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper

Few movies have had such an impact on the action genre as Doug Liman’s kinetic adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s novel. Everything about The Bourne Identity had a new grittier edge to it from Tony Gilroy’s tech-savvy script, to the fast-paced documentary style direction, to Matt Damon’s austere portrayal of Jason Bourne. The film begins with said agent being found adrift in the sea. Suffering from amnesia, as Bourne attempts to piece back together his previous life he sets in motion a series of events which make him the target of his former agency. The supporting cast contribute to the pervading sense of über-authenticity just as much as Damon, Liman, and Gilroy with Franka Potente (as a German girl who gets caught up in Bourne’s escape) and Chris Cooper (as Bourne’s CO) doing particularly well. The action scenes were revolutionary for a Hollywood film of the time with the Parisian chase sequence easily ranking as one of the best car chases in movie history.

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True Grit (2010) 4.43/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 81
Genre: Western
Duration: 110 mins
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Screenplay: Joel & Ethan Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld

Extraordinary remake of Charles Portis’ novel adapted and directed by the Coen brothers. Haille Steinfeld plays the headstrong young girl determined to hunt down the man who murdered her father. To this end she hires the one man she believes is salty enough to exact the pitiless vengeance she so desires, the mean tempered Rooster Cogburn. Steinfeld rightly got high plaudits for her performance as she belies her years with a layered and mature portrayal of the driven and angry young girl. Matt Damon puts in a strong supporting performance as the Texas ranger hunting the same villain while Josh Brolin is fantastic in his brief appearance of said villain. However, good as each of these are, they are cast in the shadow of Jeff Bridges’ immense portrayal of Cogburn as he strikes the perfect balance between cinematic charisma and gritty realness. He owns and possesses every second of every scene he features in and provides a superb counterpoint to every other character in the film. On the technical front, Bridges’ performance is equalled by the Coen’s sublime pacing and rhythmic back and forth dialogue that nears the perfection of Miller’s Crossing while Carter Burwell provides one of their most memorable scores. And then after all this, there is Roger Deacon’s cinematography which will simply blow your socks off. Never have the wide daylight illuminated vistas of the old west looked more starkly beautiful that in this film. However, they are nothing compared to the nighttime shots which driven by the Coen’s whimsical vision are the most magical and awe inspiring since Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter. Utterly magnificent.

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Elysium (2013) 2.53/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 65.7
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Duration: 109 mins
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga

The year is 2159 and while Earth has turned into an overpopulated slum planet, the wealthy have relocated to an orbiting space station which caters to their every need and, from which, the planet below is harshly governed. Matt Damon top lines as a lowly factory worker who must make his way to the space station named “Elysium” if he is to find a cure to the fatal dose of radiation he was exposed to in a work related accident. Unfortunately, Elysium’s minister of defence (a very nasty Jodie Foster) takes a dim view of those Earth peasants who attempt to sneak past her atmospheric defences and usually resorts to blowing them out of their ragged socks. However, when the first minister attempts to curb her extremist leanings, she sets about engineering a coup that Damon just happens to get caught up in. But not before he is surgically connected to a metal exoskeleton that makes him as strong as the droids which Elysium uses to enforce the law and the similarly exoskeletonised mercenaries who Foster uses to chase down Damon when he accidentally downloads the plans for her little coup (don’t ask!).

On the face of things, Neill Blomkamp’s eagerly awaited follow up to his directorial debut, the South African sleeper hit District 9, ticks a number of boxes: a 1980’s esque sci-fi escapism; a director who recently made an impressive debut in the genre; and one of the 21st century’s most watchable action stars. And for the first 40 or 50 minutes, it more or less lives up to that promise. Damon shows a likeable presence as the blue collar everyman who like Schwarzenegger’s Doug Quaid, reluctantly gets caught up in the political instability of his world. The film has a distinctive look, captured stunningly in 4K, and the visual effects are elegant and well conceived. And then there’s the hint of a time honoured bad guy dynamic where a sinister yet erudite mastermind uses a greasy thug to do her dirty work (think Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox or Michael Ironside and err…Ronny Cox).

Alas, as much as all this plays to an 80’s vintage of science fiction, this turns out to be very much a 21st century movie with all the muddled scriptwriting problems that blockbusters of this century are almost invariably beset with. Instead of taking the neat sci-fi premise and telling a simple straight forward story on the back of it, Blomkamp tacks a number of weak subplots onto the basic plot. What the purpose of these side plots are is anyone’s guess. Is it an attempt to make the movie something more than ‘just’ an action sci-fi? Are there deluded executives demanding the story have a “social angle” because some irrelevant focus group indicated a place for it? Whatever the reason, it pulverises the otherwise sleek concept.

Even without the plot confusion, the script becomes increasingly coarse. After an encouraging introduction, the villains fail to develop beyond their archetypes and Blomkamp uses them and the heartlessness of the new world system merely to flick switches in the mind of the audience. Sharlto Copley’s (Blomkamp’s leading man from District 9) central bad guy becomes more and more laughable in his nastiness and with the persistent and frankly ridiculous overuse of slow motion (coupled with the usual formidable score), Blomkamp gives the audience what seems like forever to ponder just how mean he is. Foster shows more potential but she too is painfully static in her cruelty. Not surprisingly for a film which is saturated with side plots, it’s the secondary characters that suffer most. Alice Braga is just a token presence and an actress with her talent should really start becoming concerned with potential typecasting. But at least she’s good with what she’s given. Wagner Moura on the other hand adds a new layer of awfulness to the catalogue of sci-fi’s bad performances with an altogether misjudged turn as the lesser of two evils whom Damon inevitably sides with against the elite. Positives notes on the acting front are sounded out by Damon himself who yet again proves a safe pair of hands for driving a blockbuster and a sinister William Fichtner who delivers the goods with his usual interesting degree of edge.

Technically, Elysium similarly suffers much more than it should. The concept design is rich and the immaculate visual effects would have done every bit of it justice if it were not for Julian Clark and Lee Smith’s bewildering editing. Every one of the fight sequences, of which there are many, is rendered nearly unintelligible by some frankly amateurish assemblage. Of course, Blomkamp’s stylistic ambitions played a major role here but somebody needed to speak up and steady the ship. Speaking of the fight sequences, as the movie wears on, the metal exoskeleton becomes an increasingly bemusing affectation for it really just isn’t an integral part of the story. This leaves the audience to notice it at the most random times and wonder what the hell its point is!

In the end, Elysium qualifies as a seriously flawed but visually and conceptually rousing piece of entertainment which fans of 80’s sci-fi in particular will probably accept – if only because we’ve been starved of classy science fiction for too long.

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The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) 3.72/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 73.1
Genre: Action, Thriller
Duration: 115 mins
Director: Paul Greengrass
Stars: Matt Damon, Joan Allen, David Strathairn

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is back to bring down the CIA program responsible for his training. As was the case in The Bourne Supremacy, Joan Allen is on hand (in another excellent performance) to aid his pursuit but this time nasty David Strathairn takes charge of the broader umbrella program determined to thwart him. Yes, the set-pieces are a repeat of those used in the first and second of the franchise but they are so overtly repeated that writers (Tony Gilroy et al.) and director (Paul Greengrass) are clearly signaling to the audience that here comes an even bigger example.

To be fair, they succeed in those ambitions in every instance with the possible exception of the car-chase which was so extraordinarily done in the second installment that it would’ve been difficult to beat. Thus, The Bourne Ultimatum provides us with a bounty of slickly directed and edited (Christopher Rouse) high octane action sequences with the crowning moment coming in London’s Waterloo Train Station when Bourne shepherds a journalist through a web of surveillance in one of the best executed action set-pieces we’re likely to see on screen.

The script shows up a few stress points here and there, however, with moments of needless exposition slowing the pace and compromising characters alike. Strathairn’s character too seems to exist for no other purpose than to spew soulless cynicism at Allen’s paragon of liberalism which is a real waste of the great man’s craft. Nonetheless, he’s a fine watch even in the absence of human layers and he provides a useful foil for Allen.

Still, this final installment (of those involving Damon and Greengrass) is arguably the most enjoyable of the first three because by now, both lead and director seem to fully understand the concept of Bourne and what makes him so damn cool to audiences of all ages. And no matter what the demands of the audience may be, Jason Bourne remains the coolest of all the 21st century action heroes.

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Contagion (2011) 3.29/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 67.3
Genre: Thriller, Disaster
Duration: 106 mins
Director: Steven Sodernergh
Stars: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law

Steven Soderbergh has recently announced his intention to retire from directing and given the rate at which he has been churning them out over the last few years, one can understand his desire to step back. The calibre of these films is also impressive with every one of them proving interesting in their own way. Contagion is certainly no exception as it’s a uniquely sleek take on the “outbreak” movie. It follows the outbreak of a lethal hybrid strain of the swine and bird flus from “patient 0” to the point of near apocalypse with specific focus on the attempts of the various scientists and experts to culture, sequence, and kill the virus.

Contagion has many admirable qualities. Laurence Fishburn and Elliott Gould give standout performances as respectively a government and private scientist. Kate Winslet is even better as Fisburn’s “person on the ground” while Matt Damon as the beleaguered husband of Gwenneth Paltrow’s “patient 0” is strong despite the movie’s overall problem with personal subplots (more on this below). Soderbergh combines much of the exposition (of which the film has a lot) with Cliff Martinez’ energised score and overlaps the scenes with his usual verve. This gives the film a solid momentum despite the majority of the action being dialogue-based. Scott Z. Burns’ script is polished and technically informed which emphasises the authentic vibe which his director’s style naturally brings. The film is also full of striking imagery such as Jude Law’s subversive blogger wandering through the deserted streets tacking his propaganda flyers to walls and lamp posts while kitted out in an oxygen suit which evokes memories of Bruce Willis’ sample gathering expeditions in Twelve Monkeys.

Contagion tries its best to show snippets of the wider “outbreak” story. That is, it covers both the technical and medical efforts to contain the virus and the personal trials of the average Joe Citizen. The problem is that Soderbergh’s quasi-documentarian direction and Burns’ (the Bourne Ultimatum) slick writing style are both excellent at capturing the former but not always great at the latter. A better balance was needed on this project to prevent the sharp procedural and dispassionate quality of the scientific investigative scenes carrying over into the subjective drama thereby neutralising it. Thus, despite a considerable amount of time looking at the changes and stresses to the domestic life of many of its protagonists, there’s a distinctly impersonal feel to the story. This is particularly the case with Damon’s subplot which is almost entirely emotionally framed. The film would be better served if they had of discarded the personal stuff and focused exclusively on the technical and bureaucratic drama which in truth the film needed more of.

A second major issue concerns Law’s greedy blogger. Though there are some nice attempts to invert typical notions of conspiracy caricatures (including a nice nod to 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers), such is the extent of his paranoia and his influence that it comes across as a little unbelievable. As such, this potentially fascinating subplot feels a little out of kilter with the rest of the film and only serves to distract from the extremely clear and even surgical focus of the main drama. Another subplot involving Marion Cotillard’s World Health Organisation agent and some Chinese kidnappers is equally daft.

Contagion is a laudable effort from a great director and top cast and it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Fukasaku’s Virus and maybe even Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. As it is, it will probably please most mature science fiction fans though it certainly feels like it tried to do too much and got caught between two stools. Thus, those with a broader interest in film appreciation will be frustrated by the missed opportunities.

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Green Zone (2010) 3.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 64.5
Genre: Action, War
Duration: 115 mins
Director: Paul Greengrass
Stars: Matt Damon, Jason Isaacs, Greg Kinnear

Paul Greengrass’ film was done no favours by tagging it as “Bourne goes epic” because this film is not as epic as nor anyway related to any of the Bourne instalments. It is, however, an interesting attempt to address the complexities of the most recent US-Iraq conflict as they appeared on the ground. It follows a military team led by Chief Miller (Matt Damon) who are responsible for searching possible WMD sites in the early days of the US invasion. When his team continues to find no sign of said weapons, he takes it upon himself to find out why. As you would expect from Greengrass the action scenes are well handled (although coming from the man who gave us two of the Bourne films they are perhaps underwhelming) and the acting on all fronts is decent. There are some silly bits but overall this is a satisfying modern war film.

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