Arrival

In a montage at the beginning of the film, Professor of linguistics Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is seen caring for her young daughter who sadly doesn’t make it to adulthood because of cancer. We return to the present day and Louise is lecturing some of her students when they realise that strange monolithic alien shapes are appearing in places around the globe, hovering silently just a few metres above the ground. Louise is asked (by US Army Colbert GT Weber) to join physicist Ian Donnely in trying to help the military figure out who and what they are and what is going on.

I enjoyed the process of Louise trying to establish communication, and the patience required and displayed by the protagonists. It also displayed the difficulty with worldwide cooperation well, full of tension and twitchyness with positions and methods shifting greatly due to small changes here and there.

However I was very disappointed by the ending which seemed to reduce the entire story down to one person and their love life. Grand ideas about the furtherment of mankind and cooperation on an international scale and more were reduced to one person’s skills and choices. I unfortunately completely lost my suspension of disbelief at this point!

2 on 5

Info
Director: Denis Villenueve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma
UK Release: 10th October 2016

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Zero Dark Thirty

Making a film about the period between the 9/11 bombings and the killing of Osama Bin Laden is quite an undertaking. For a start, there are 11 years between the two events, but there are also countless ways to approach it, millions of people involved, and a lot of strong feelings to consider. For those reasons, the decision of director Kathryn Bigelow (teaming up again with journalist/screenwriter Mark Boal, as per ‘The Hurt Locker’) to focus the story on one person (a CIA agent trying to hunt down the whereabouts of Osama) make sense and the subsequent criticisms of the film as promoting torture are almost to be expected.

The film begins with and audio montage of 9/11 911 calls and police radios before landing in a compound in Pakistan where a man is being detained and interrogated with increasingly tortuous tactics. Our protagonist Maya (Jessica Chastain) is flown in from the CIA in Washington DC to assist with the investigation. The torture is depicted as brutal, not without results, but also not without strains for the interrogator. Even Maya’s tough-skinned colleague Dan eventually gets worn down and weary, having to return to an American office (the monkeys being the final straw!) but the very fact that it is depicted at all, for so long and with a sort of moral abstention, is probably what is displeasing people. The fact is, torture WAS used, so to skim over it would be more inappropriate and akin to airbrushing it out of history.

The Obama era brings a shift in morals and an intensification of the chase, with the specialist team disbanding and the red tape proving increasingly infuriating. In a section reminiscent of serial killer hunt films like ‘Zodiac’, Maya stands her ground against the big-wigs, suffers some scary near misses and eventually we get act 3 – the mission to take out the unidentified third male. For some reason Osama Bin Laden is referred to as UBL, not sure if that is product placement or just a bad acronym. This section is excellent – the lack of music and the dark setting lending to the sense that you are with the team conducting the raid as well (apart from the fact that the team seem to breech the compound walls about five times!).

It’s an edgy, tense world we are looking into, and despite telling the story from an American’s viewpoint, there’s no flag-waving or gung-ho high-fiveing and despite the obvious dramatisation in sections, it all the time comes across as a believable train of events. The relentless pursuit consumes the lives of all those involved, literally or metaphorically, and when we reach the conclusion, Maya’s response to the question of “Where to now?” shows just how much.

Another good film from Kathryn Bigelow that keeps you interested despite already knowing the story and outcome and having a running time of well over 2 hours. That’s pretty good going I reckon!

4 on 5

Info
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton
UK Release: 11th Jan 2013