Review Roundup: ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ ‘Gangster Squad,’ ‘Rust and Bone’

zerodarkthirty

Zero Dark Thirty

For their follow-up to the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal planned on making a film about the decade-long, futile search for Osama Bin Laden. As they were preparing to make that film, though, Bin Laden was killed by American soldiers in Pakistan.

Time for a course correction.

Zero Dark Thirty, the film that came about after the shift in ending to the story, follows a fictional figure who nevertheless represents an actual member of the CIA who spent a decade looking for Bin Laden. That figure in the film, Maya, played to perfection by Jessica Chastain, stands out amidst groups of men for her single-minded determination to find the terrorist.

Before Zero Dark Thirty’s release, Ben Affleck’s Argo cornered the market this season for intense adaptation of a real-life story. Zero Dark Thirty makes Argo feel like child’s play. From a haunting opening scene, if you can call it that, Zero Dark Thirty is roughly two hours of build-up to a breathtaking final half hour.

The film has stoked some heated conversation over its depiction of torture. To be fair, the film does depict torture in some intense ways. From my observation, though, a direct connection between torture and viable information isn’t present. And let’s be clear – if you don’t think waterboarding is torture, seeing it reenacted in the film should make you rethink that position.

With Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow and Boal have upped the intensity of their last collaboration, and like The Hurt Locker, this film is easily one of the best of the year.

Gangster Squad

Following the shootings in Aurora, Colorado last year, Gangster Squad was pushed back from its original September release date to remove and replace a scene shown prominently in the trailer – a shootout in a movie theater. The version of the film that finally arrives in theaters may not feature the aforementioned scene, but it’s still an incredibly violent film.

The story tells the story of Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen and the group of police officers charged with bringing Cohen down. While based on a true story, the film takes some serious dramatic license with the story. It may not be on the level of, say, Quentin Tarantino’s take on Hitler in Inglourious Basterds, but it aims in that direction.

What helps the film is a strong cast, headed by Josh Brolin and Sean Penn. The brunt of the marketing has focused on Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, though, and for good reason; the two are the standouts of the film.

Still, the film’s strengths can’t overcome the weaknesses. Aside from the excessive violence, the characters are woefully underdeveloped, and the plot progression is weak and largely predictable.

Among new, non-Oscar-baity releases this month, you could do much worse than Gangster Squad. But there are definitely better films coming out this month, let alone this weekend.

Rust and Bone

Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) and Matthias Schoenaerts star in this melodrama about Ali, a single father who connects with Stephanie, an orca trainer, following a tragic accident that rids Stephanie of her legs. It’s a random relationship, one that seems to work through most of the film only because Ali is boorish enough to not treat Stephanie with kid gloves. Ali is, in other words, an asshole, and to his credit, Schoenaerts plays the asshole well (plus it doesn’t hurt that he looks good naked – and plays pretty rough while naked too). Cotillard, meanwhile, completely justifies her Oscar win a few years ago with a performance that’s equally Oscar-worthy. It’s a shame that she missed out on a well-deserved nomination this year, but with more performances like this, Cotillard should be in play again in the future.

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