Thursday, 31 January 2013


15, Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, John Goodman   

After a slew of motion-capture animated offerings (The Polar Express, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol), Robert Zemeckis’ timely welcome return to the fold of live-action filmmaking – his first since 2000’s Cast Away – manifests itself in the form of Flight.  A boozy old-school character study, Denzel Washington is the sole focal point as (the strangely named) Whip Whittaker, an airline pilot who successfully crash lands a passenger jet. Whip’s nightmare begins once he regains consciousness however, as an investigation into the crash highlights the presence of alcohol in his bloodstream.  Considering the opening scene pits Whittaker guzzling beer and snorting cocaine through the night – and then bravely shows him boarding a passenger jet as its lead pilot, as casual as if he were working a 3-hour shift in the local supermarket – it is clear-cut our friend Whip has an addiction.

 Washington is as brilliant as always, giving a searing performance that takes John Gatins’ screenplay and positions audience members in a moral dilemma; this is a guy who is mindless to his problems...the same guy is also a hero. Washington pushes the boundaries as Whip, holding us in a headlock as he hurtles towards an unpredictable final act. If only the film could live up to his performance, instead he is forced to carry the weight of the suspect structure throughout. British actress Kelly Reilly is introduced in a disparate storyline early on, introducing us to her recovering junkie Nicole. When the characters collide in a scene not long after, you would be mistaken for assuming this story strand will culminate in adding something to the lengthy running time. Love interest? Plot filler? Neither; she is simply a mind-numbingly worthless addition and really bruises what potentially could have been a first-rate drama. A shame, considering the talent and promise Reilly evidently conducts. Intermittent appearances from the ever-welcome John Goodman are as welcome as ever, if slightly out of touch with the film surrounding them; he plays (the strangely named) Harling Mays, Whip's drug dealer pal, injecting a random bout of comedy to the whole thing - something Argo did so well, but Flight misplaces. 

The highs of Flight make the lows fall like crashes... the standout opening plane sequence, and the build-up to the climactic hearing Whip must attend proves that the clunky exposition has shrouded the decent stuff, with these particular scenes providing breathless action and impressive visuals; factors that help you remember why Zemeckis, the man behind the amazing Back to the Future trilogy, is up there with the elite. 

As it stands, this flight is a turbulent one.

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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

2012, 15, Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong

Every year in the film universe, there appears to be a certain film which the release of sparks debate, splattering said film with controversial matter, presenting the danger of a preconceived notion planting itself into your brain before you’ve even bought your cinema ticket, thus shaping an opinion of a film you're yet to see; this year, Zero Dark Thirty is the target. Depiction of torture, an inclusion of archival footage documenting Obama’s refusal that torture-tactics were employed in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden amount to highly undeserved hole-picking of an extraordinary film that is not afraid to embrace the facts.

Kathryn Bigelow's first film since The Hurt Locker originally documented the agonising search for ‘the most dangerous man in the world,' 10 years as long as it was futile... until history altered matters on May 2nd, 2011 when Bin Laden was finally shot and killed on sight. Bigelow's film now having a definitive closure, she and Mark Boal rewrote the entire script to account for these turn of events.

Soldiers may have carried out the deed, but not before a decade-long hunt led by a female CIA officer - here, named Maya. Re-assigned to Pakistan in 2003 following a brief career solely focusing on locating the terrorist following 9/11, Jessica Chastain skilfully tracks us from silently reserved to brashly determined, her job providing an excuse to be obsessive, as the years roll by and the locating of Bin Laden seems ever more probable. The actress does a fantastic job of emphasising the frustration of being surrounded by uncertainty in a hugely urgent situation; her superiors remain uncommitted to her confidence, coming to a head in scenes where she locks heads with Kyle Chandler’s Chief Joseph Bradley or James Gandolfini's CIA Director – a polar opposite to the Maya we see years previous, looking on as fellow CIA officer Dan (Jason Clarke) waterboards, strips and all-round tortures a detainee with possible links to terrorists. Being left alone with the detainee, somewhat uncomfortable with what she is witnessing, the interrogated pleas for her help. After a moment's hesitation, she steps forward. ‘You can help yourself by being truthful,’ she quietly says. Maya is the very epitome of lone wolf, her backstory non-existent, a character shrouded in as much mystery as the operation she is heading; the only thing Boal’s script permits us to fully process about Maya is that this hunt, for unknown reasons, is a deeply personal one.  

It may be no secret as to how this story ends, but this fact does not detract from the remainder a single bit, a sure-fire sign of a brilliant director. Somehow, Bigelow ensures her film remains as tense a cinematic experience that you can possibly have (and much more than just an extended episode of the brilliant Homeland.) The entire running time - from the aesthetically tortuous opening blank screen of nothing but a collage of reactions voiced in the initial aftermath of the 9/11 attacks - is nerve-shredding and terse as hell. Sharp script, taut editing - everything that Bigelow and Boal bring to their film is finely-tuned, every scene knife-sharp to the point of perfection. A top-of-her-game Bigelow has offered up what is, quite frankly, a master-class in filmmaking. If you were in any doubt of this, Zero Dark Thirty's final half hour will convince you; confirmation from the highest order is given to allow a team of freshly-deployed soldiers to do what the film - and 10 years of real time - built up to. Riding in stealth choppers towards a Pakistan compound, many of the team crack jokes and lark about, never once in any doubt that in front of them lies the world’s most wanted terrorist - a located needle in the globe's haystack - with the pressure on them to take him down. The mission that unfolds on-screen in real-time, cutting between the obscuring darkness of night and the equally as engaging, yet unnerving infra-red POV goggles, is terrifyingly and bluntly real; it’s hard to put into words just the heights Bigelow reaches depicting this rigorous operation, putting us in the position of the SEAL team in a way no other could - or indeed, would. I dare you to breathe during these moments.

With Maya’s mission complete and her time to head home arriving, we learn more about her character in the closing 30 seconds than the entire film allows us to; for all of her conviction, her life away from this obsessive hunt is clouded with an uncertainty she has been distracted from for so long. Zero Dark Thirty - for all of its conviction - is a rare feat: something that all film's should aspire to be.  


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