Tag Archives: jessica chastain

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

“Can I be honest with you? I am bad fucking news. I’m not your friend. I’m not gonna help you. I’m gonna break you. Any questions?”

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt

ZeroDarkThirtyZero Dark Thirty is a docudrama movie that takes a closer look at the 10-year-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda terrorist leader and orchestrator behind the 9/11 attacks. Following Maya, one of the CIA operatives, we are shown the events leading up to how bin Laden was killed at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team.

This film has big ideas, bin Laden has been such a notorious figure in our post 9/11 world that material for the film was in abundance. Nevertheless, it feels as though it came up a bit short.

There are very few things about the film I actually enjoyed. Firstly, Jason Clarke was a standout actor for me, but with a cast filled with the kinds of people it was, it can’t have been that hard. As a CIA interrogator, Clarke is a charismatic guy and gives the most vicarious performance. He was the one capturing my attention and making me want to know what was going to happen next. Through water-boarding, humiliation, beatings and rewards for information, he took on the role of good cop and bad cop when faced with militants.

Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton as two of the Navy S.E.A.L’s were also really good. Knowing Pratt from Parks and Recreation and Edgerton from Warrior it was nice to see how they adapted to these roles. They gave a performance with more feeling than their co-stars which made them instantly likeable. These are the types of characters that should have been explored more.

Jessica Chastain’s character, Maya, was very annoying. I also think they might have slightly based her on Carrie Mathison from Homeland. The exceptions being that we know Carrie’s story and can understand why she is irrational, but when Maya gets an idea and hangs onto it because she is obsessive, it’s just annoying. There is no reasoning with the girl and I hate that. She has no redeeming qualities. Even in the beginning when she is more subdued and innocent, she seems too fragile to be in such a hostile environment.

The plot of the film is very hollow and there are a lot of unnecessary scenes. We all know how it is going to end, bin Laden is caught and killed, so it could have taken more time to explore more appealing characters or story lines, even giving a bit of background information to certain characters and their behaviour. There are a lot of different options and avenues that could have been looked into, especially with the length at which it stands. There are no excuses.

The cinematography towards the end of the film was really bad. As the invasion of the bin Laden’s house was done in the middle of the night, we are shown what the Navy S.E.A.L team see through their night vision goggles. This green filter was horrible, the contrast was too weak so it was hard to depict what we were seeing and with so much going on, it was hard to keep track of what was happening. It would have been better to either shoot it in the dark in a film noir type fashion, or make the night vision goggle scenes clearer – more akin to Silence of the Lambs maybe. It just doesn’t work, and with it being the climatic part of the film, it feels as though Bigelow blew it.

Zero Dark Thirty was very hit and miss. I couldn’t really settle as there was no underlying characters I sympathised with as none were given character archs. While this may have been an attempt to make it more about the events rather than the characters, I think it was the wrong decision. I didn’t care for the ones that died and I felt nothing when there were close calls. I think some backstory is necessary as this makes it more accessible for audiences to get involved with the proceedings of the film, and if you can’t get the audience on board and excited about the film, you’ve done something very wrong.

With nothing drawing me in, Zero Dark Thirty wasn’t done well enough. It gets a 5 as the events which unfolded were quite interesting and there were moments when I felt I was on the verge of being pulled in, though it just doesn’t quite cut it. A few of the actors were good: Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke and Chris Pratt, but then there were those to counter it. It’s nothing special, and it’s more of a take-it-or-leave-it kind of deal. I’m quite disappointed though as it had the potential to be something more, and I haven’t got a clue as to why it has an Oscar nomination.

Star rating:  5/10

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

Running time 157 minutes.

The Help (2011)

“No one had ever asked me, what it felt like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.”

Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer

It really that wasn’t long ago.

When a young, white, wanna-be journalist decides to write a book about black maids from a notoriously dangerous and racist town, she doesn’t realise the real extent of what she’s getting herself into. Set in 1960s America when there were massive amounts of segregation, The Help is a beautiful story that deals with the hostility and unbearable strife that black people faced – especially that of the maids – in Jackson, Mississippi.

Having read the book I was really excited about watching the film, albeit a bit apprehensive. Films often tend to miss capturing the true emotion conveyed in a book but The Help was not a disappointment and with the amount of awards it has collected, I’m definitely not the only one who thinks this.

The first thing that has to be said about the film is how great the performances were. Viola Davis in particular was a favourite. Her portrayal of Aibileen, one of the main focuses, was really brilliant. It’s exactly how I imagined her to be and she really manages to convey some real heartfelt emotion. The next actor who had me really impressed was Emma Stone who plays Skeeter, the journalist who really wants to see a difference in society. Having been raised by her maid rather than her mother, Skeeter has a real care for these women and the way they are treated. She is a bit naive in terms of how serious the issue of writing the book is and how threatening the consequences will be if she’s discovered. Stone does a great job and it’s fantastic to see her in a more serious role rather than her usual comedic one – even though she does bring a few laughs with her.

There were other great performances from Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook and Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote. They all leave a lasting impression and really do manage to capture the feelings that were around in those times, although occasionally it seemed a bit lackluster or fickle. While in some cases they could have been stronger in their performances, it seemed the script was really holding them back. I have no doubt that they had it in them to play their roles more in line with the true mentality of white women at that time, but then it’s the director who really has the last say. Other notable roles came from Sissy Spacek as Mrs. Walters and Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan, their roles as older women meant their behaviour was more inclined to be racist and less open minded, they both did a great job with this.

The things that I felt could have been changed to increase the quality of the film are probably what Hollywood voted against. Even though it is a whopping 2 hours 20 minutes, I felt they missed out some of the story or glossed over some of the more tackling issues. Some of its racial themes were merely brushed at surface level and in some cases, not given the attention they should have been. It’s things like this that needed attention to really secure it as a serious film that dealt with racial issues. Instead I think they were trying too hard to make it a commercial success. So either it could have been longer to fit in these qualities and risked becoming too lengthy, or it could have been tighter and more concise in its script. However the length it sits as was good in terms of the audiences attention span and interest, my minor annoyance isn’t really about the length, it’s really to do with overall content.

The Help is a great film that tries to show its audience the other side of things. While it seems to care more about commercial success rather than content in some cases, this, just like the amount of attention given to its more serious racial themes, can be looked over. Davis and Stone are fantastic and if you’re given the opportunity to watch it, I’d say don’t miss it.

Star rating:  7/10

Directed by Tate Taylor.

Running time 137 minutes.

The Tree of Life (2011)

“The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.”

Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain

The Tree of Life is the most beautiful film I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe the most beautiful film I’ve seen, period.

In what can only be described as an epic, director Terrence Malick has brought breathtaking visuals and awesome photography of the highest standards and layered it over a fairly simple plot.

Modern day Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) starts to question his relevance and reason for being, on the anniversary of his brothers death. Through his childhood memories The Tree of Life explores his adolescent years during the 1950s in Waco, Texas. With the sweet and sensitive grace of his mother completely contrasted against the brash, hard and unforgiving nature of his father, his pubescent years are very much a struggle for Jack who is simply torn in finding the right path to take.

The actors are all superb. Brad Pitt plays an emotionally withdrawn, business oriented man striving for success. In the film depicted as taking the path of nature, he is hard on his children and tells them that to be successful in this world, sacrifices are to be made. You won’t get anywhere by being a pushover. Jessica Chastain would be this ‘pushover’ he is referring to. The wife of Pitt and mother to his 3 children, Chastain’s character is seen to adopt the much more loving and homely way of grace. Believing that life is nothing without love, she tries to influence her boys in making the decision to stay on the path of grace which can only leave you feeling like life is worth something.

However their 3 boys are very much torn between their parents. All 3 of the actors that portray the children are brilliant, Hunter McCraken, Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan. Hunter, who portrays a young Jack, is especially great. His efforts at keeping within his mother’s way of grace are difficult for him, especially with his father hammering home he’ll make it nowhere with this mentality. He battles constantly and starts to lose his way when his father leaves for business and he automatically becomes the man of the house.

Unfortunately for Sean Penn I felt he was dealt a rough card. His character is obviously going through a massive period of doubt and breakdown in his life, and the undeniable emotion that Penn was striving for wasn’t quite as well transcribed to film. Perhaps the editing could have been a bit nicer to his character, but I felt that he was dealt a bit of a bad hand which left his character looking a bit useless and detached on screen.

The bad things I can say about The Tree of Life are minimal. Its non-linear narrative can be confusing at times, often jumping from one time period to the next with no explanation as to why, and its theme of religion is fairly prominent, which isn’t to everyones liking. While you don’t have to be religious to understand the messages given or to even watch the film, I get the impression some people may find it too preachy. I certainly didn’t, but going to see this film in the wrong mindset leaves space for criticism, perhaps the main being the religious aspects of the film.

The major thing about the film that has been its main criticism is the artistic direction. For me, this is in no way a bad thing. Malick’s beautiful direction and unquestionable passion for this film has meant some have written it off as a pretentious effort at explaining the origins of the universe and religion. To me, this complaint is because they couldn’t reach out and find any other faults. The acting was superb, the visuals were stunning and they were simply left feeling confused about the story, so they turn their finger and point it at the cinematography. This isn’t why you didn’t like the film. You didn’t like it because your mind was closed and you’d made your decision within the first 5 minutes. (But that’s just my opinion)

The best thing to do before watching this film is to make sure you have no preconceptions or expectations, this is why I think I left feeling changed at the end. Don’t watch the film for the wrong reasons. Don’t watch it to escape from your own life for a couple of hours, because in the end the film will point back at you. Watch it to challenge yourself in asking questions about your own life.

Star rating:  8.5/10

Directed by Terrence Malick.

Running time 138 minutes.