Film Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark ThirtyKathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is a thoroughly absorbing thriller. Bigelow’s film is excellent.

Following the World Trade Centre attack in 2001, CIA Operative Maya takes part in the interrogation of suspects thought to have links with Al Qaeda. Maya is unflinching in her pursuit to uncover the whereabouts Osama Bin Laden, even when her colleagues wish to concentrate on other targets. Despite her colleagues and superiors’ dubiety, Maya thinks she has found the link to Bin Laden…

It would be impossible to depict a truly authentic account of what happened in the CIA post 9/11 with the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Nevertheless, Zero Dark Thirty offers a plausible depiction, and perhaps as realistic a portrayal as Hollywood can deliver.

The focus in Zero Dark Thirty remains on the events rather than the individuals. This is wise, given how little is known about the real people involved. Nonetheless, Maya is an interesting protagonist. Although screenwriter Mark Boal does not offer viewers much of a background, Maya is still compelling due to her dogged determination.

The pacing of Zero Dark Thirty maintains the audience’s attention, despite a long running time. The film features the downtime of fact finding and surveillance interspersed with scenes of heightened tension. It follows a rhythm with the interrogation at the beginning, the leg work (with the aforementioned tense moments) and a gripping finale.

Kathryn Bigelow exhibited her flair for directing suspense with 2008’s The Hurt Locker. Zero Dark Thirty is no different, with editing, camera work and sound being used to great effect. Jessica Chastain is excellent as Maya; the actress deserves the praise and accolades she has hitherto received. The supporting cast including Jason Clarke, Mark Strong and others are also great.

Kathryn Bigelow has taken a story that everyone knows the end to and fleshed it out, giving context and depth beyond the headline. Zero Dark Thirty is highly recommended.

Film Review: Coriolanus

Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut Coriolanus is a modern-day adaptation of the Shakespeare’s play using the Bard’s original language. The film is skillfully produced but unfortunately rather dull.

Caius Martius is a respected member of the Roman army, well known for his bravery. Succeeding on his most recent mission to defend Rome from the Volscian uprising, the soldier is bestowed with the name Coriolanus and encouraged to run for consul. Angering the populace and with politicians as enemies, Coriolanus is in for a rough ride…

Coriolanus is a solid debut from Fiennes. Notwithstanding, there is a major problem with the film in that it can be a little boring at times. It feels too drawn out as a whole to hold one’s attention for the entire duration. While the battle scenes are frenetic, some of the dialogue-heavy scenes are far too prolonged. There are sine good scenes, such as the crowd polling one, but others go on for too long and slacken the entire film’s momentum.

The contemporary setting of Coriolanus works well, although it is unusual and unintentionally humorous to hear news reader Jon Snow speak in Shakespearean verse. Some of the issues covered by the film, such as the duty of public servants, are very pertinent for modern audiences. The battle scenes are full throttle, with Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography reminiscent of his work in The Hurt Locker.

Ralph Fiennes delivers a powerhouse performance in the title role. Excellent support is provided by Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox. Jessica Chastain is also decent as ever, but underused in her minor role.

In one way, it was a wise move to adapt Coriolanus; unlike a lot of Shakespeare’s work, not all will be familiar with it. There is an element of unpredictability which is missing from adaptations of the Bard’s more famous works. Nevertheless, Coriolanus is not the most interesting of stories as not an awful lot happens in the two-hour running time.

Coriolanus is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.