Tag Archives: Thriller

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) Review

When everyone heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed in 2011, the U.S. breathed a huge sigh of relief. We were finally able to find the man responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent American citizens after a decade-long manhunt. At the same time, Kathryn Bigelow, who was just coming off the huge Academy Award success of The Hurt Locker, was shooting a film documenting the entire journey. This was met with mixed reception, as some believed it might be too political and wouldn’t do justice to such an important story. They are wrong on both accounts. This film isn’t political, nor does it gloss over or sugarcoat any of the vital details of this operation. Kathryn Bigelow has crafted a masterpiece of a film that slowly builds tension over the 157 minute run-time, erupting in a heart-pounding finale that everyone was eagerly anticipating to unfold onscreen.

The film begins with the torture of man linked to al-Qaeda. Dan, a CIA agent played by Jason Clarke, is letting the Arab man know that “if you lie, I hurt you.” The man is not so easily broken, so this leads to a few torture sequences which were definitely a bit shocking and hard to watch. I know that many people are making a big deal out of whether or not torture was really used during this ordeal and questioning the morality issues of portraying it that way, but I myself don’t look too deeply into it. No matter how “true” a story claims it is, you are never going to get a movie that is 100% truthful to the source material, because it more than likely wouldn’t make for an engaging film. This is nothing more than a dramatization of the facts that we do know about the investigation and uses only the most important and/or interesting details in order to keep the viewer’s eyes glued to the screen.

During the opening sequence we are also introduced to Maya, a CIA agent played by Jessica Chastain. She is the woman this entire film revolves around, because it is her complete commitment to finding Osama bin Laden that results in all of the progress that was made to finally find him. Jessica Chastain is simply phenomenal in this role. She is very reserved and meticulous, and you always get the sense that the only thing on her mind is to get bin Laden. Of course, this mindset has had some negative side-effects on her social life and maybe a bit of her sanity, but you sympathize with her because you know that she cannot rest until her mission is complete. Chastain definitely put in an Oscar-worthy performance here, and if she does win it is deservedly so.

The story bounces around from intel that the team gathers on bin Laden’s whereabouts and to other people who may be able to shed a little light on the situation. These scenes are often slow and methodical, as it took a long time for any evidence of note to really be uncovered. However, it is the passion of those involved and the desperation of Maya that keeps these scenes from becoming stale. They literally have almost nothing to go on for a while, so even the littlest detail is a huge deal. Some intel leads to important breakthroughs, while others are misleads that come with dire consequences. The teams really has no choice but to trust people who they normally wouldn’t, which adds a lot of suspense to the entire narrative.

Maya faces a lot of adversity throughout the film, because she is truly the only person that believes in the hunt. Throughout the films runtime she constantly has to prove people wrong and try to convince them that the effort is worth it. People are getting tired of the manhunt, they have other things to worry about and Chastain has become that boil on everyone’s butt. However, she never once falters, and even if she doesn’t always get the results she wants or expects, she is always making sure that there is no stone left unturned. Everyone else in the film basically continues just based on her own confidence and determination by the second half of the film, which is truly inspiring.

Even though Chastain is far and away the central character and the driving force for the entire film, she is still surrounded by a very strong supporting cast. Mark Strong is fantastic as George, a man involved with the intelligence of the mission. There is a repeated situation between Strong and Chastain that happens throughout the second half of the film that provides some quick but refreshing humor into the mix. As the days go on and no progress is being made on the mission, Chastain repeatedly goes to the window of Strong’s office and writes the number of days it has been in big red marker. It is very funny, especially as you witness the number getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Jason Clarke is perhaps the most important supporting character in the film, because he is the most closely involved with Maya and her operation. He’s responsible for the torturing of the those linked to Osama bin Laden, though you can tell that such a job has left a mark on him. He wants to help Maya, but at the same time he also wants to have a normal life and wants to get away from all the madness he’s involved in. The intensity he brings to the early scenes is what really makes the movie hit the ground running. Rounding out the cast is Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, and James Gandolfini as well as Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt who are part of the SEAL team. They don’t show up until the last act of the movie, but there is no denying the importance of their roles and the talent conveyed from them.

What Kathryn Bigelow has been able to achieve with Zero Dark Thirty is remarkable. She’s taken a decade-long manhunt and condensed it to just over 2 hours and 30 minutes of muted intensity. To be able to do that with a story that everybody already knows the ending to is incredible. As I said before, we probably will never know the exact events of what happened during the entire operation, and this film only scratches the surface of a dilemma that definitely has immense depths of information left untapped. Even so, the film completely immerses you in the experience and makes you believe in absolutely everything it is telling you. Bigelow makes you feel like you had a first-hand account of one of the biggest events in American history, and that alone is an incredible achievement.

Release Date: December 18, 2012 (Limited)

Genres: War, Action, Thriller



The Bourne Legacy (2012) Review

The Bourne trilogy contains some of the best action / espionage films ever created. They are extremely well scripted, acted and executed, and really raised the bar for what is possible for these types of movies. When that trilogy came to an end, many people were still thirsty for more (especially considering how fantastic the final film was). However, director Paul Greengrass and the series star Matt Damon would not be returning. How can you continue a franchise without the main character? Do you make a reboot, prequel, or a sequel that focuses on somebody new? Well, the answer to that, more or less, is all of the above. The events of this film run parallel with The Bourne Ultimatum, while fleshing out background info from previous installments while simultaneously building things up for future installments.

The Bourne Legacy stars Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross. He’s a member of Operation Outcome, which is a Department of Defense black ops program. They enlist people who – like Jason Bourne at Treadstone – take on a new identity, though the difference is that they are physically and mentally enhanced by blue and green “chems”. These pills that Outcome are giving their field operatives are a genetic breakthrough, though they are top-secret and are known only to those involved in the program. The movie begins with Cross being in the middle of training assignment for Outcome in Alaska, which is basically supposed to test everything that he is capable of doing.

However, things quickly start to fall apart, and it turns out Operation Outcome has found itself in hot water. Operation Blackbriar and Treadstone have been publicly exposed (as witnessed in the 3rd film) which leads to an investigation by the FBI and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. They will be digging up as much information as they can on known faces from previous films in the franchise, such as Pamela Landy and Dr. Albert Hirsch.

The conflict truly begins when Eric Byer, a CIA clandestine operations leader, discovers a video on the internet in which the lead researchers of both Outcome and Treadstone are seen together. Byer does not want this link to lead to an exposure of Operation Outcome, so he decides to completely destroy the program. He plans to kill all of those involved so nothing about the program ever sees the light of day, and he has no problem with doing that because there is a backup plan. Aaron Cross eventually realizes this, and must now avoid assassination from the very same people he is working for.

The main thing that everybody is wondering is whether or not Jeremy Renner is a fitting replacement for Matt Damon, and I can answer that with a resounding yes. Renner is every bit as capable as Matt Damon, acting-wise, though the difference in the two characters allows Renner to do more. Aaron Cross is still very much a person who is aware of his situation, unlike Bourne who is very confused about everything, which gives us a character who is tough but extremely likeable. Aaron Cross was a character that I found more compelling, which is probably because Renner is a better actor than Damon.

Renner and Norton

The cast is definitely one of the highlights of the film, as it is rounded out by some truly talented people. Rachel Weisz is the leading lady this time around, and she gives a very powerful performance. Her character is constantly in turmoil, and Weisz brings the proper amount of hysteria for her particular situation. Ed Norton is another new face, being the man who is tirelessly hunting down Aaron Cross. He appears to be an average person, but he has many things up his sleeves that he must subdue in order for his master plan to work. He’s evil but you can understand the circumstances that lead him to what he’s doing, and that makes him quite the compelling antagonist.

Tony Gilroy takes over the directing duties as previous director Paul Greengrass stepped aside, and he does a fantastic job. Gilroy has been the screenwriter for all films in the franchise up to this point, so he definitely is no slouch in knowing what the heart and soul of the movies are all about. His action scenes are not nearly as choppy or shaky as what we saw in previous installments, and that was a definite improvement. Gilroy also wrote the screenplay and delivers another compelling story that is both familiar and unique compared to the ones that came before it.

The Bourne Legacy is a very worthy addition to this fantastic franchise. It introduces new characters, conflicts and ideas, and it’s all wrapped up in a narrative that is very compelling. We get to see an entirely different perspective to the story we have been following for years now, and it sheds a new light on everything we have learned up to this point. Jeremy Renner is absolutely fantastic as Aaron Cross, giving us a protagonist that we can relate to far more than we could with Jason Bourne. I hope that the filmmakers decide to continue on with him at the helm, though it’s looking iffy with the mixed reception. Whatever happens, it doesn’t change the fact that this is an awesome addition to the franchise and continues to cement this series as one of the best ever made.

Release Date: August 10, 2012

Genres: Action, Thriller, Espionage


House at the End of the Street (2012) Review

With a movie that has such a generic title, you might expect that it would be a red herring. The Cabin in the Woods was a similar situation, and it ended up being one of my favorite horror satires of all-time. House at the End of the Street is not horror satire; in fact, it is the exact kind of movie that horror satires make fun of. However, even though the script is spotty, it still contains some characters I found to be very likeable, and a story that was interesting even if it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.

The movie is a about a teenage girl named Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) that moves into a new neighborhood with her mom. They move right next to a house where a young girl murdered her parents four years ago. Her mother tells her that the drama surrounding that house allowed them to move in next door for a rather affordable price. They believe that this house at the end of the street is vacant; but the mother notices a light turn on in the house around 3 o’clock in the morning. It turns out the son of the murder victims, Ryan, still lives in the house.

Elissa is introduced to a boy that goes to her school, but quickly realizes that he is a jerk and does not want to be involved with his crowd. She is walking home from a party one night, and Ryan offers to give her a ride home. She accepts, eventually, and proceeds to ask him about the story of the murders. He tells her that his sister, Carrie-Anne, got brain damage from falling off a swing. This made her become very aggressive which led to her murdering their parents. He feels responsible because he was helping her go higher than she should have been going on the swing. She quickly learns that he is very troubled, but deep down she feels that he is a good person and she wants to help him.

If it wasn’t for Jennifer Lawrence I would not have gotten as much out of this movie as I did. She is extremely likeable and elevates the so-so dialogue so that you at least are interested in what is going on, even if you aren’t completely wowed by it. This won’t be a performance she’ll be remembered for, but it certainly is better than most horror films of this nature. I must also praise the performance of Max Thieriot, who played Ryan. He was very reserved and socially awkward, and was believable as a boy with a rough upbringing. Thieriot portrayed the emotional scars that Ryan had well, and even though he didn’t need much range, I still sympathized with his character.

This wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be. The plot isn’t anything revolutionary, but it offered enough interesting elements to keep me watching. It’s unfortunate that the movie squanders a lot of the potential the story did have, and relies on very cheap jump scares to try and rack the tension up. There was potential here for a very good horror movie, but some interesting plot points simply don’t get fleshed out enough. House at the End of the Street isn’t going to be on any year end lists, but as far as the horror genre goes, you can do a worse. Even though the execution is spotty and it isn’t very scary, I liked some of the pieces to this puzzle, even if they never fit together.

Release Date: September 25, 2012

Genres: Horror, Thriller, Mystery



The Cabin in the Woods (2012) Review

A horror film that is clever and original is something that you seldom see in this day and age. The genre is overflowing with films that have paper-thin plots that are buried with gore, nudity and cheap scares as a way to cover up the shortcomings. With the vast majority of these films being panned by critics and moviegoers alike, it is about time that a film came around that turns today’s horror formula on its head. Thankfully, along comes The Cabin in the Woods; a horror film that makes fun of many of the horror genre cliches and treats us with a story that is fun and engaging. Finally, a modern horror film with a freakin’ script!

The film takes place – you guessed it – in a cabin in the woods. 5 college students go there for a vacation, and bad things happen. While this appears to be the most standard and dumb horror plot in existence, that is exactly the point. The film starts off as just another horror film in order to make fun of all of the genres cliches; such as the isolated area, a creepy man warning them not to go there, and the 5 people themselves all fall into the most generic horror characterizations imaginable. As the film goes on, however, the nods to old horror films takes a back seat, and we are slowly sucked into a story that resembles no other.

This is a well executed film, and Drew Goddard (director, co-writer) is able to balance the comedy and horror aspects really well. Whether you are laughing at the absurdity of a situation or shaking because of what lies in the shadows, they both work and the tonal shifts never feel jarring. I must also give him credit for gathering a great cast of actors that actually make the film better rather than taking away from it. It is a given in horror films that you have absolutely horrible actors that are underdeveloped and you could not care any less about them. This is not the case here, as all of the actors give solid performances and are very likeable. Each character is here for a reason that drives the story forward, not just to drive up the death count.

I can’t delve any deeper into the plot because it’s nearly impossible to without spoiling something. This film is best viewed without knowing any of its tricks, so I recommend not reading any in-depth reviews before seeing it. It’s called The Cabin in the Woods for crying out loud; it wants you to think it is just another dumb horror film, and if you go in thinking that you will more than likely come out pleasantly surprised. Rarely does a film come along that is so predictable and at the same time so unpredictable, and the fact that it happens to be a horror film is more than enough reason why it should be checked out.

Release Date: April 13, 2012

Genres: Horror, Comedy, Thriller