Zero Dark Thirty

Columbia Pictures

Rated R for profanity, disturbing images and graphic violence.

Riveting Docudrama Recounts International Manhunt For Bin Laden

After 9/11, the United States intensified its efforts in the international manhunt for Osama Bin Laden (Ricky Sekhon). Nevertheless, the elusive mastermind of the terrorist attack continued to orchestrate mass murders in Bali, Istanbul, London, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere around the world.

Dismayed by the ever-mounting death toll, the authorities rationalized the use of rough interrogation tactics bordering on torture in the hope of expediting the capture, dead or alive, of the slippery al-Qaida leader. He was ultimately tracked down to a walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where he died on May 2, 2011 during a daring, helicopter raid conducted by Navy SEAL Team Six.

Directed by two-time, Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow (for The Hurt Locker), Zero Dark Thirty (military speak for 12:30 a.m.) is a riveting, super-realistic account of the decade-long search for Bin Laden. Bigelow has again collaborated with Oscar-winning scriptwriter Mark Boal (also for The Hurt Locker), with the pair apparently gaining access to classified materials in preparing the project.

The film is structured as a tale of female empowerment revolving around Maya (Jessica Chastain), a cool, calm and collected CIA agent who manages to keep her head even when so many around her seem to be losing theirs, literally and/or figuratively. She also has an uncanny knack for deciphering which clues might be worth following, cutting a sharp contrast in this regard to bumbling colleagues who fritter away most of their time on wild goose chases.

At the point of departure, we find Maya finally getting her first taste of fieldwork after starting her career boning up on Bin Laden behind a desk in Washington, D.C. She’s been reassigned to participate in the questioning of al-Qaida members and sympathizers being detained at secret sites located outside the U.S. where the Geneva Conventions provisions relating to torture presumably don’t apply.

Soon, Maya’s chasing clues from Pakistan to Kuwait to Afghanistan and back, alongside tone-deaf bosses (Jason Clarke and Kyle Chandler) who could crack the case quickly if they weren’t such male chauvinists suffering from Persistent Disbelief Syndrome. That’s the shopworn plot device which pits a frustrated, unappreciated protagonist against an army of stubbornly skeptical naysayers.

Whether a convenient, cinematic contrivance or an accurate portrayal of what transpired, Zero Dark Thirty’s version of history certainly makes for a very convincing piece of patriotic storytelling. Credit Jessica Chastain for imbuing her character, Maya, with a compelling combination of vulnerability, sagacity and steely resolve in a memorable, Oscar-quality performance.

CIA Agent Strangelove, or how I learned to stop worrying and love waterboarding!

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 157 minutes

 

 

The Impossible

Summit Entertainment

Rated PG-13 for brief nudity, disturbing images and intense disaster sequences

Tsunami Drama Revisits Family’s Harrowing Ordeal

On the day after Christmas in 2004, a magnitude 9.3 earthquake, the third largest ever measured on the Richter scale, triggered a mammoth tsunami in the Indian Ocean which cost a quarter million people their lives. Thanks to the ubiquity of surveillance and cell phone cameras, the world was able to witness much of the tragedy, including tidal waves crashing ashore and creeping deep inland before sweeping humans, cars and everything else in its path back out to sea.

Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry Belon (Ewan McGregor), a married couple from Spain, had the misfortune to be vacationing in Thailand with their three sons (Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast) that fateful day. Because they had rented a ground level cottage at a luxurious beachfront resort, they were engulfed by water and separated from each other the moment disaster struck.

The family’s ensuing ordeal is the subject of The Impossible, a harrowing tale of survival directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage). The Belons’ nationality has admittedly been changed from Spanish to British for the sake of the film, but one can only assume that the rest of their terrifying experience has been accurately recreated here.

The film opens with a relatively serene tableau covering their uneventful, Christmas Eve flight to Khao Lak as well as their subsequent celebration of the holiday opening presents and snorkeling. Of course, that deceptively idyllic setup is just the quiet before the storm.

When the tsunami hits the following morning, their hotel is engulfed, and from that point forward the picture is presented primarily from Maria’s point of view. We first witness her clinging to a palm tree, and then saving eldest son Lucas (Holland).

The kid eventually escorts his profusely bleeding mother through the chaos to a makeshift hospital for some urgently needed medical attention. While she teeters between life and death, Lucas perambulates the devastated region for any sign, living or dead, of his missing father and siblings.

Did they make it? Sorry, far be it from this critic to spoil the resolution of any edge-of-your-seat thriller, even if based on actual events.

Forget National Lampoon, this flick chronicles the real vacation from hell!

 

Very Good (3 stars)

In English and Thai with subtitles

Running time: 114 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening January 11, 2013

 

Gangster Squad (R for profanity and graphic violence). Mob saga, set in the ‘40s, revolving around the efforts of a half-dozen detectives to prevent the Mafia from gaining a foothold in Los Angeles. Ensemble cast includes Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie and Giovanni Ribisi.

 

A Haunted House (R for profanity, sexuality, crude humor and drug use). Marlon Wayans stars in this horror comedy as a guy who enlists the help of a priest (Cedric The Entertainer) to perform an exorcism on his wife (Essence Atkins) when she becomes possessed by a ghost soon after they move into a new home. With David Koechner, Bobbie Lee and Nick Swardson.

 

The Baytown Outlaws (R for sexuality, drug use, graphic violence and pervasive profanity). Custody comedy about a woman (Eva Longoria) who hires a trio of rough rednecks (Clayne Crawford, Daniel Cudmore and Travis Fimmel) to rescue her godson (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) from the clutches of her abusive ex-husband (Billy Bob Thornton). With Zoe Bell, Serinda Swan and Natalie Martinez.

 

Clandestine Childhood (Unrated). Dirty War drama, set in the ‘70s, following the fortunes of a couple (Natalia Oreiro and Ernesto Alterio) which assumed new identities upon moving with their sons (Cesar Troncoso and Teo Gutierrez Romero) back to Argentina from Cuba to take part in the guerilla movement trying to topple the government. With Violeta Palukas, Mayana Neiva, Douglas Simon and Cristina Banegas. (In Spanish and Portuguese with subtitles)

 

Fairhaven (Unrated). Prodigal Son drama about a substance-abusing ne’er-do-well’s (Chris Messina) very eventful weekend spent with a couple of pals (Rich Sommer and Tom O’Brien) when he returns to his hometown for the first time in a decade to attend his estranged father’s funeral. With Sarah Paulson, Alexie Gilmore and Natalie Gold.

 

High Tech, Low Life (Unrated). Big Brother documentary examining censorship of the media and the internet in the People’s Republic of China. (In Mandarin with subtitles)

 

Quartet (PG-13 for profanity and suggestive humor). Dustin Hoffman directed this musical drama set at a home for retired opera singers where plans for the annual concert celebrating Verdi’s birthday are complicated by the arrival of a pampered diva (Maggie Smith). Featuring Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly and Sheridan Smith.

 

$ellebrity (Unrated). Paparazzi documentary, directed by Kevin Mazur, offering an inside look at the lives of the rich and famous as well as the shutterbugs who get paid to stalk them with cameras. Featuring appearances by Kid Rock, Jennifer Aniston, Sheryl Crow, Marc Antony, Salma Hayek and Sir Elton John.

 

Storage 24 (R for violence, gore and profanity). Sci-fi horror flick about four Londoners who find themselves trapped with an alien in a storage facility after the crash of a military cargo plane. Starring Noel Clarke, Colin O’Donoghue and Antonia Campbell-Hughes.

 

Struck By Lightning (Unrated). Coming-of-age comedy narrated by a socially ostracized high school senior (Chris Colfer) recounting the events leading up to his untimely death in a parking lot. With Allison Janney, Rebel Wilson and Dermot Mulroney.

 

Uprising (Unrated). Arab Spring documentary chronicling the 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s repressive regime in Egypt.

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