Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty [2012]

Zero Dark Thirty [2012]

Zero Dark Thirty [2012]
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writers: Mark Boal
Genre: Drama/History/Thriller
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt
Running Time: 157 minutes

When Osama Bin Laden was killed by American forces a year and a half ago, a movie release was inevitable. How could Hollywood pass up such a juicy story as the hunt for the man responsible for the deaths of 3,000 innocent Americans? Although such a film was expected, it was still a surprise to see it released the very next year. Even more shocking is that it is a damn good film getting all sorts of Oscar buzz, although it certainly helps to have the talented Kathryn Bigelow at the helm.

Zero Dark Thirty begins in 2003 with the introduction of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA officer who has been reassigned to work at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. She is teamed up with Dan (Jason Clarke), a fellow officer who has been interrogating detainees as to the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden (“UBL”) and other Al-Qaeda terrorists. As this is the early 2000s and during the Bush administration, this involves gratuitous torture, much of which we are there to witness. In fact, many have deemed these scenes to be controversial, some stating that they glorify torture. I don’t see it that way, as none of the interrogators are actually enjoying the torture, especially not Maya, who seems startled by it at first. It’s also hard to say just how much the torture helped in the hunt to find Bin Laden — it’s not like the only helpful information came from those who were abused. But I digress.

Zero Dark Thirty [2012]

A few years later, Maya has her eyes on a well-concealed man known as Abu Ahmed. She is determined to find him, whose whereabouts are unknown according to every detainee she talks to. Others involved in the CIA, including the top chief Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), tell her she is wasting her time. Yet Maya is anything if not persistent.

It’s a long paper trail to Osama Bin Laden, and when the CIA finally believes to have discovered his location, they are anything but certain. Everyone involved have varying levels of confidence as to whether or not “UBL” is in the targeted compound, and there is a great deal of uncertainty as to whether or not they should go through with the raid. Of course, we all know how this plays out, but it’s still fascinating to watch as we follow the breadcrumbs leading to the world’s most wanted fugitive.

Zero Dark Thirty [2012]

While many are bound to praise the scene during the final raid inside Bin Laden’s fortress, I found the thrill of the hunt to be far more enthralling. I only vaguely remembered hearing about some of the “smaller” terrorists attacks over the years, and it was quite stunning to see them reenacted on screen. Watching Maya piece together every lead or hint she found became an intriguing process, even if the end result was known.

Perhaps most interesting is that the film focuses so heavily on a female’s perspective. I was not aware that Maya (or rather, her real-life counterpart) had such a crucial role in the pursuit of Bin Laden, and without her persistence it’s hard to say whether he would still be alive. The role of Maya is played admirably by Jessica Chastain, who continues to rise to the occasion with every new role she takes. Maya’s progression (or rather, deterioration?) over the last decade is remarkable, as she toughens up with every attack, even becoming a bona fide badass by the end.

The rest of the cast is impressive as expected, another who’s who of great character actors. Jason Clarke and Kyle Chandler have important roles in the CIA, the former of which caught my eye as someone I hadn’t even heard of before. Familiar faces such as James Gandolfini, Mark Strong, Jennifer Ehle and even Mark Duplass all make welcome appearances, each playing a small, but important part in the film.

Zero Dark Thirty [2012]

While Zero Dark Thirty succeeds in many areas, I am a little surprised by the overwhelming praise surrounding it. The film’s running time — nearly three hours — could have used a little trimming, and the final raid was surprisingly anticlimactic. It’s kind of amazing that the operation had so many mistakes and yet the mission was still accomplished; however, this is well-known information and still fresh in the mind. Perhaps with a few years perspective, this could have been more riveting.

Regardless, I rather enjoyed the film overall, and any reservations I have had are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. Bigelow has been on a roll lately, and it will be interesting to see where she goes next.

8/10

Movie Review: Moneyball [2011]

Moneyball [2011]

Moneyball [2011]
Director: Bennett Miller
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Language: English
Country: USA

Let me preface this by stating that I am a huge fan of baseball and of the book, Moneyball. It helps to be a fan of both, but the film adaptation was created in a way to appeal to everyone.

The movie, just like the book, focuses on the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics and their charismatic general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). A former baseball player who moved to the front office after he didn’t “pan out”, Beane is responsible for operating a small-budget Major League Baseball team. Oakland’s total team payroll in 2002? A paltry $39 million, the third lowest in all of baseball. Compare this to the mighty Yankees, who had a whopping $125 million payroll that year.

Yet the year before, in 2001, the A’s won seven more games than the Yankees and ended up meeting them in the playoffs. While the team wildly exceeded its expectations, this was still a grave disappointment for the demanding Beane. He was faced with an even greater dilemma that offseason in that three of his best players — Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen — were all leaving via free agency because he couldn’t afford to pay them. Now, not only does he have to follow up a tremendous 2001 season but he has to do it with spare parts in the roles of his former superstars.

Moneyball [2011]

This is where “Moneyball” steps in. After persuading a rival team’s assistant named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to join Oakland, the two collaborate and develop a new way to look at baseball. Instead of listening to gray-haired scouts rattle on about a player having all “five tools” or how good they look in appearance, Beane and Brand decide to focus on sabermetrics and non-traditional statistics. They seek players who can get on base by any means necessary, particularly by drawing walks. Their key stat? On-base percentage. Who cares if a guy is a liability in the field if he makes up for it with his bat? That’s the perception the two executives have, and it is perhaps best illustrated in the form of one player: Scott Hatteberg.

“Hatty”, as he was commonly known (played by Parks & Recreation’s Chris Pratt), is the perfect example of the Moneyball theory. Unwanted by other teams since nerve damage no longer allowed him to play catcher, Hatty is visited by Beane in an attempt to get him to play first base. Even though he is terrified of taking ground balls at the position, he perseveres and puts together some great moments at the plate (including an epic at-bat during the team’s record-breaking 20 game winning streak). Hatteberg’s salary in 2002 was $900,000. Giambi’s? $10.4 million.

It’s pretty freaking incredible that a team patched together with past-their-prime veterans (like David Justice) and defensive liabilities (Hatteberg) could still manage to win over 100 games and make the playoffs once again. It doesn’t matter that the team lost in the first round again — they still went toe-to-toe against teams with payrolls four times as large. Plus the concept of Moneyball revolutionized the league, and its effects are still felt today.

Moneyball [2011]

In terms of a film watching experience, you do not need to be a baseball fan to enjoy the movie (as stated above). Brad Pitt gives Beane a highly likable personality, even as we see how he is a deeply flawed man. Jonah Hill is quiet and subdued as Peter Brand, and it’s interesting to see him take on a role like this. The always excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman plays A’s manager Art Howe, who frequently butts heads with Beane due to differences in baseball philosophy. Chris Pratt also does well with his role of Hatteberg, astutely playing a baseball player who lacks confidence in himself.

The script is both well-written and intelligent, and it also has a surprising amount of humor. Screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian did a fantastic job adapting Michael Lewis’ bestseller.

As far as baseball movies go, this is one of the best. As far as 2011’s movies go, this is also one of the best. Everyone will find something to like about Moneyball, whether it’s the smart dialogue, perfect cast or the baseball philosophy.

9/10