Were it entirely fictitious, Zero Dark Thirty (***½) would still be riveting. That it’s rooted in fact — an opening credit states it is based on first-hand accounts — makes it, if anything, even more impressive.
The outcome of the story is known to just about every cognizant person on the planet, so considerable credit is due screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow (reuniting from their Oscar winner The Hurt Locker) for making the film as compelling and suspenseful as it is.
The film details the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001, in a persuasive fashion that certainly feels credible. Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a CIA operative who spearheads the global search, sifting through false leads, false information and other unforeseen obstacles in a painstaking, sometimes perilous effort to get her man.
Maya is essentially the only character who remains a constant throughout the entire film. Having proven herself a formidable young screen actress in recent years (often in supporting roles, such as Tree of Life, Take Shelter and The Help), Chastain here proves herself to be a bona-fide movie star.
There’s good work from the entire cast, which includes James Gandolfini, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Harold Perrineau, Joel Edgerton, Stephen Dillane, Kyle Chandler and Winston-Salem’s own Jennifer Ehle, but this is Chastain’s show all the way. It’s also an intriguing twist in having a woman dominate a film like this. In a sense, she carries the film (and it her), and provides a strong, believable central figure within the big picture.
The main controversy surrounding the film is its unequivocal assertion, literally from the first scene, that torture methods were employed to extract information regarding the whereabouts of Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives. This adds a moral layer to the proceedings that Bigelow and Boal mine thoroughly, as the principal issue becomes: Do the ends justify the means?
On a knee-jerk level, the elimination of Osama bin Laden would be seen by many as a positive action, yet that question hangs over the characters in the film, much as it does all of us as Americans. Such actions have consequences, and few movies of this nature bother to even acknowledge that. In addition to tension, excitement and even relief, Zero Dark Thirty offers ample, and timely, food for thought.
Texas Chainsaw 3D (*) is the seventh film to boast the Texas Chainsaw title, for those keeping score at home. It’s not the worst of the bunch, but it’s still pretty bad, and certainly not in a league with Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original — or his underrated 1986 sequel.
As the title implies, the film is in 3D (although you can see it in 2D) and it features appearances by Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hansen, who appeared in the original film, and Bill Moseley, who appeared in the first sequel. It’s about a bunch of dumb kids who take a trip to Texas (obviously), and most of whom die in gruesome ways. They’re not missed.
The heroine is played by Alexandria Daddario, who is easy on the eyes in any dimension, and Dan Yeager plays the chainsaw-wielding madman Leatherface. Tobe Hooper earns a token executiveproducer credit, for whatever it’s worth.
There are a couple of jolts and the gory special effects are well done, for those who care. Although the story goes in a new direction — leaving the door open for further sequels along the way — the film is mostly a bore, although it’s too noisy to sleep through. Blame the chainsaw.
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