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New release movie reviews - 1 February
ZERO DARK THIRTY ***** (157 minutes) M
The first and most important thing that needs to be said about director Kathryn Bigelow's methodical, measured, utterly compelling film about the tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden is that it is not a documentary. It is a ripping revenge yarn.
Shaped as a thriller driven by a classic heroine fuelled by the strongest of all movie motives - payback - Bigelow delivers what is, in essence, a slow-build, follow-the-clues pursuit where sheer persistence results in a 30-minute pay-off that is nothing short of spell-binding.
As CIA agent Maya, Jessica Chastain guns her relentless prosecution of her quarry with passions that alternate from ice-cool (as when observing torture sessions) to fiery (as she knocks heads with stubborn bureaucrats). She's like a mentally balanced version Claire Danes' Carrie from Homeland.
And there's nothing muddy about Maya's motives. There's no debating about the righteousness of her cause, no discussion or dissection about the "war on terror", no cosy liberal caveats about America's foreign policy.
Maya is magnificently single-minded; she hates Osama bin Laden for 9/11 and wants him dead. That's it. No doubts, no regrets, no reflection. She doesn't care if children get killed. It's a clear case of self-justifying moral quid pro quo - she hates him as much as he hates America. He took his shot. Now it's her turn.
She is therefore - and like all great movie heroes - a very easy person to side with and respect.
After her Oscar-sweeping success with 2009's The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty establishes Bigelow as the de facto chronicler of America's multi-front war in the Middle East. It's a position she clearly enjoys. There is certainly no hiding the relish she takes in detailing the all-American ideals that infuse her characters, such as courage, persistence and pride of country. And when the boots hit the ground, Bigelow again proves herself a tight, top-shelf director of action.
The film has come under fire for alleged inaccuracies and for appearing to endorse torture - a clearly ridiculous charge; showing it doesn't mean condoning it - and Bigelow, to her great credit, has come back with a water-tight defense: it's a Hollywood movie.
In this case, it's a thrillingly entertaining one. And buckle up for the incredibly tense climactic raid on bin Laden's compound, a sequence that deserves a special award for being cinema's first battle to be conducted almost entirely in whispers.
Fun Facts: Zero Dark Thirty is military parlance meaning 12.30am - the time of the raid; the film was initially about the fruitless search for Osama bin Laden but was overhauled once he was killed; the film makes a perfect companion piece to United 93, the Paul Greengrass film about 9/11; Chastain's role was originally slated for Rooney Mara, from Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; the technically accurate quad-lens night-vision goggles the soldiers wear in the film oddly makes them resemble the Sand People from Star Wars.
FLIGHT **** (138 minutes) MA
Continuing his career-long love of deeply flawed characters, Denzel Washington hits a new high as 'Whip' Whitaker, a womanising low-life alcoholic and coke fiend who also happens to be a commercial airline pilot.
After pulling off a miraculous landing when his plane loses its hydraulics, Whip's hero status quickly sours as his addiction issues come to the fore and put him squarely in the firing line, with little wiggle room.
There have been some terrific films about alcoholism - The Lost Weekend; Once Were Warriors; Days of Wine and Roses; Crazy Heart; Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; 28 Days; Only When I Laugh; Walk the Line; A Star is Born; Barfly; The Verdict; Leaving Las Vegas - and Flight easily takes its place as one of the best, chiefly because it is so honest.
The powerful pull of the bottle is conveyed with considerable force and accounts for some memorable moments as Whittaker fights to face down the demons tearing at his will and his desire for a better self. The character fits Washington like a tailored strait-jacket, possibly because he's worn it before. In Tony Scott's Man on Fire (2004) he also played an alcoholic hungry for redemption.
Fun Facts: Despite having Washington and director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away; Back to the Future) on board, studios were reluctant to make the film. So the pair took huge pay cuts, kept the budget to paltry $30 million (less than half the average cost of a studio picture) and shot it in 45 days. Writer John Gatins worked on the script for 10 years and based much of the film on his own experiences with alcohol and drugs.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK *** (122 minutes) M
Fresh out of a mental institute, Pat ("It" Man Bradley Cooper) moves back in with his very tolerant parents (Robert De Niro and a very natural Jacki Weaver), but struggles to make progress. Trying to recover from a cheating wife he still loves, his questionable determination to reunite with her is complicated by volcanic anger issues and the advent of a new woman in his life. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone; The Hunger Games) is also mentally askew as she processes the death of her husband through promiscuity. As they rehearse for a dance contest, the two generate a bristly chemistry that develops into an engaging push-pull relationship of reluctant attraction. The film's rather ham-fisted playing with thorny issues such as mental illness is more proof that the American romantic comedy formula is going through some retooling. Director David O. Russell (The Fighter; Donnie Darko; Three Kings) is a little too chipper at times - breaking a restraining order is really no joke - but he brings a breeziness to this likeable tale of two misfits trying to make it work. And the finale is a hands-down crowd pleaser. Based on the book by Matthew Quick, De Niro is a delight in full-on Fokkers mode.
Fun Facts: Vince Vaughn was originally meant to play Cooper's role; director Russell drew on his son's experiences with bi-polar disorder; Lawrence put on weight for the role.
THE MAGISTRATE *** (180 minutes) E
Versatile American acting veteran John Lithgow (Dexter; The World According to Garp) headlines the National Theatre's highly enjoyable, if somewhat overlong, adaptation of the high-society farce by Arthur Wing Pinero. It's finely done frippery over three hours (including intermission), that picks up a great deal in the second half. A major bonus is how the play's commentary about female age anxiety is no doubt more pertinent now that it was when it was written in 1885. Screens Saturday & Sunday at the Nova in Melbourne and in Brisbane at Dendy Portside, Palace Centro and Noosa 5 Cinemas.
Fun Fact: Pinero's 1923 play The Enchanted Cottage was the basis for the 1945 Robert Young/Dorothy McGuire film.