Reviews – New movies opening January 25th 2013

We review this week’s cinema releases, including Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Reda Kateb, Jennifer Ehle, Chris Pratt, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini, Edgar Ramirez.
THE PLOT: Opening to a black screen and a collage of emergency phone calls from the Twin Towers, we quickly jump to two years after the 9/11 terrorist attack, and the first of many undisclosed locations around the world used by the CIA to do some off-the-radar interrogation. For Dan (Clarke), it’s clearly another day at the office, but for new arrival Maya (the great Chastain, coming across like a likeable, and talented, Claire Danes), the harrowing torture is a little hard to stomach. Maya may be our Alice in this cracked hall of mirrors, but she’s no little girl lost. “She’s a killer,” quips CIA Islamabad Station Chief Joseph Bradley (Chandler), and those instincts soon have Maya convinced that amongst the many names that regularly crop up in their search for Osama bin Laden, Abu Ahmed is the key. Over the years, as the shadow play on both sides increases, the trail runs hot and cold. More lives are lost, and more clues emerge, but the torture never truly stops, despite Obama’s claim to the contrary in one TV clip…
THE VERDICT: This Oscar fave from the duo behind the 2009 Oscar winner, The Hurt Locker, has come under major fire for its depiction of CIA operatives torturing terror suspects, as well as claims that America’s intelligence agency provided the filmmakers with classified documents for the production. Just this week, ex-CIA agent Lindsay Moran has said that this “infomercial about CIA interrogation” would do more to radicalize potential terrorists than photos of Osama bin Laden’s dead body. Susan Sarandon has put her voice to the American Civil Liberties Union call on the Senate Intelligence Committee to release its report on CIA torture, the actress stating that Zero Dark Thirty leaves the mistaken impression ‘that the CIA’s torture of prisoners ‘worked’ by providing information that led to bin Laden’. As far as Sarandon is concerned, we should watch this film ‘as entertainment, but when we talk about torture, we should have the facts’.
One would imagine that writer Mark Boal – who won an Original Screenplay Oscar for The Hurt Locker – would be the sort of guy who checks his facts. Especially when dealing with real life during wartime. This isn’t Dr. Strangelove, nor is it Private Benjamin, Zero Dark Thirty being a deadly serious affair – fittingly dark and dense, and with, it seems, diligent attention to detail. The politics of the viewer will determine how the film is read, whether you’re a Noam Chomsky disciple or an Andy McNabb fan. The root of the problem – and, not just for America and its latest enemies but for so many other David and Goliaths around the world, the exploitation and distortion of those roots – is what really needs to be addressed.
There will be those who will gobble up this film along with a large helping of freedom fries, but others may feel humble pie is more in order. Either way, Zero Dark Thirty is never gung-ho, nor yeehar. It’s disturbing, daring, occasionally dazzling and ultimately depressing. Even though we know there’s a Hollywood ending.

Review by Paul Byrne

LINCOLN (USA/12A/150mins)
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Tim Blake Nelson.
THE PLOT: Two months into his second term as President of the United States, and Abraham Lincoln (Day-Lewis) has a dream – and that dream is to abolish slavery. The vote on his 13th Amendment to the Constitution is imminent, and it’s going to take all his charm and determination to convince a largely sceptical Congress that having black folk do all their hard lifting and dirtiest work is actually a bad thing. Especially given that the Civil War is still raging, four years and 60,000 deaths later.
Opening on the battlefront, as Lincoln holds court to a group of soldiers – including one very outspoken black soldier, quick to point out that inequality still rules even in war – before charting the long, hard battle the wise and increasingly weary Abe endures on the road to that crucial vote on January 31st, 1965, you never lose sight of the man’s righteousness. The vote, as we know, is successful, instantly becoming a landmark in American history. Real progress can be slow though – Lincoln’s triumph in freeing 4 million black American slaves came exactly 103 years and 68 days before Martin Luther King was assassinated.
THE VERDICT: Okay, so Daniel Day-Lewis is stunning in the lead role, and yes, Spielberg offers up a masterclass in epic filmmaking – all Barry Lyndon light and little shimmering water-glass moments as history comes pounding on the door – but there’s no denying that, as a film, Lincoln is a little dull. Homework dull.
For all its importance, and its earnest, well-crafted, beautifully-acted and beatifically-lit humble pomposity, this is a movie where all the money shots are speeches. It would have worked just as well as a radio play.
“I could write shorter sermons,” quips Lincoln at one point, “but once I start, I get too lazy to stop.” It’s a line Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner must have chuckled over, given the very distinct danger that, for many, Lincoln is going to be all talk. And a lot of it.
Of course, there’s wit here and there to balance out the hushed reverence and historic oratories, provided by a comic relief trio (amendment campaigners Spader, Hawkes and Nelson), a cantankerous but reliable old goat (the cantankerous but reliable old Tommy Lee) and Lincoln’s own wise and weathered anecdotes. Of which there are plenty, the statuesque President here coming across more than a little Ronnie Corbett at times.
By the stirring end, you realise that Lincoln was really the first and last Republican President who didn’t fear black America. Maybe that’s why he was deemed a dangerous radical…

Review by Paul Byrne

THE LAST STAND (USA/15A/107mins)
Directed by Jee-woon Kim. Starring Arnold Schwarzeneger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman, Harry Dean Stanton, Peter Stormare, Eduardo Noriega, Jaimie Alexander.
THE PLOT: Having swapped life as a top-of-the-range LAPD narcotics officer for PG crimefighting in the sleepy town of Sommerton Junction, Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger). Life is the slow lane is interrupted quite spectacularly though when drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Noriega) breaks free of an FBI prisoner convoy…
THE VERDICT: Arnie has quite a lot of fun in this shamelessly old-fashioned comic actioner. Yowsa.

Review by Paul Byrne

MOVIE 43 (USA/16/90mins)
Directed by Elizabeth Banks, Steven Brill, Steve Carr, Rusty Cundieff, James Duffy, Griffin Dunne, Peter Farrelly, Patrik Forsberg, James Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, Brett Ratner, Jonathan van Tulleken. Starring Emma Stone, Elizabeth Banks, Hugh Jackman, Chloe Grace Moretz, Live Schreiber, Seann William Scott, Stephen Merchant, Gerard Butler.
THE PLOT: Bunch of characters, bunch of stories, thanks to a bunch of directors. And a bunch of well-known faces…
THE VERDICT: Take all the sparkle, false teeth and political correctness out of Garry Marshall’s recent travesties, Valentine’s Day (2010) and New Year’s Eve (2011) – films that made Richard Curtis’ Love, Actually (2003) seem edgy – and I’m guessing you might just end up with this young, hip, happening and R-rated buffet. When I say young, hip, happening and R-rated (being produced by Peter Farrelly and a buddy), this omnibus comedy sketch film is still a mainstream offering, but it is absolute rubbish.

Review by Paul Byrne