Zero Dark Thirty directed by Kathryn Bigelow:
When it comes to the death of Osama Bin Laden, I thought I’d heard it all – and then I saw Zero Dark Thirty. Perhaps both the most anticipated and controversial film to be released towards the end of this season’s Oscar race, Zero Dark Thirty is a fictional depiction, based on firsthand accounts, of the ten-year long pursuit and ultimate killing of Bin Laden. Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter/producer Mark Boal have created such an engrossing film, that by the time the Navy SEAL team reaches Bin Laden’s now infamous Abbottabad compound, you’ll have forgotten that you already know how the events unfold. I personally was so engaged that I was hanging on the edge of my seat, anxious about what might happen next. Any film that can take such a heavily covered topic and subvert my knowledge of reality is worth seeing – and probably worth a few awards in this already competitive season.
Though it may not be entirely as it happened, Bigelow recreates the high stakes of this decade long mission by beginning with the events of 9/11, and then following CIA operatives through the harrowing process of hunting Bin Laden down. It fills in the gaps of what possibly happened leading up to May 1st, 2011, illustrating the struggle of deciding what to do in this seemingly impossible assignment. What exactly happened between 2001 and 2011? How could Bin Laden be found? How far would the CIA operatives have to go to find him? And could captured Al Qaeda sources give up any information that could be trusted? Graphic torture scenes in dimly lit cells are juxtaposed with the white walls of the CIA offices. Guerilla style handheld cameras are employed to make the experience more realistic, and extreme low-light is used in the final raid to make the viewer feel as though they are a part of the capture team. What emerges is a unique film experience: a fictional action/drama so naturalistic that it feels at times like investigative journalism. It is raw filmmaking that brilliantly affects the viewer to their core. Though parts may be hard to watch, I found it exponentially harder to look away.
What is most effective is that Bigelow humanizes this story by following the journey and the internal struggles of the CIA operatives. This adds a previously unexamined level to the world’s narrative of these events. While the human element is inherently written into the script, it is artfully brought to life by the ensemble cast, fearlessly led by Jessica Chastain and featuring Chris Pratt, Jason Clarke, Reda Kateb, Joel Edgerton, and Kyle Chandler, among others. Chastain is mesmerizing as Maya, the central character whose sole focus is to target and find terrorists. She delivers a nuanced, believable performance in a tough role, and unwaveringly carries the movie on her shoulders. It’s no surprise she’s a frontrunner for Best Actress at the Academy Awards this year. All of the praise heaped on her is undoubtedly deserved.
At 2 hours and 37 minutes, some may worry about the film’s length, though I wouldn’t let that deter you. I found this film to be so captivating that it flew by, and by the time it was over, was hungry for more. There’s much talk of Zero Dark Thirty being the sleeper contender this awards season, and having now seen it, I can understand why. Bigelow and Boal, who previous collaborated on the heavily awarded Hurt Locker, have proven once again that they are exceptionally adept filmmakers with the masterful Zero Dark Thirty.
-No Small Feat
-Targeting Jessica Chastain
Captain Phillips directed by Paul Greengrass:
Tom Hanks is one of the most respected American actors working today. Every film he makes gets notice. 2013 has been a good year for Hanks. Most recently he stars in the film Saving Mr. Banks while his first film released this year was Captain Phillips. Directed by Brit Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy), the film is based on the true story of Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks – Philadelphia, You Got Mail), a captain working for U.S. company Maersk, and his crew who had their cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. Both Saving Mr. Banks and Captain Phillips have created Oscar nomination buzz for Hanks for both of his performances.
It had been 200 hundred years since the last U.S. cargo ship was hijacked. Captain Richard Phillips and his crew of the Maersk Alabama sailing from Africa to the United States were the ones that broke that streak. Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is the head of a small crew of Somali pirates who have been sent out by their bosses with the instructions to not come back unless they have a lot of money. The pirates send out in a small motor boat in pursuit of a ship to rob. They come upon the Maersk Alabama and set their sights upon it. Captain Phillips and his crew, who are unarmed, try their best to ward off the pirates, but the armed men prevail.
Most of the crew gets down below to hide in the engine room. Captain Phillips is taken hostage by Muse and his men. A cat and mouse game begins between the captain and pirate. Captain Phillips tries to keep Muse from finding his men and Muse tries to locate the missing crew and get some money in the process.
In desperation after an American naval ship comes to rescue Captain Phillips and capture the pirates, Muse and his crew take Captain Phillips hostage. A tense stand-off ensues in which the lives of Captain Phillips and Muse and his crew all hang in the balance.
What Greengrass does best with this based on a true story film is he does not fall into the trap of making it a one dimensional good vs. evil film. The so-called bad guys are relatable and are shown to do what they do out of desperation. They aren’t just evil, rather they are driven to do what they do due to their circumstances. Everything is gray just like real life. Complexities of character and morality are rampant. This makes everything in the film seem realistic and amps up the tension even more.
Tension is another thing Greengrass brings to the film. Even when you know that the Somali pirates are going to get on the cargo ship he still manages to make their boarding of it an exciting sequence. Part of the tension is due to his skill while the other is because of the partnership forged between Tom Hanks and his acting partner, Barkhad Abdi (first film). Abdi’s performance comes out of nowhere and is a real breakout. His hints of a sensitive and intelligent soul that has been broken by a hard life shines through in almost every frame he is in. Almost like two dance partners, the actors work in tandem and create a rhythm that lends itself to the story. Two very human performances.
All this adds up to a palpitation inducing psychological thriller that was one of the strongest films of 2013.
-Capturing Captain Phillips