Rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language.
Who’s in it: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt.
What it’s about: Painstakingly chronicling the decade-long search for Osama bin Laden, the film begins on Sept. 11, 2001, and ends on the night Navy SEALS killed the terrorist mastermind. The narrative centers on Maya (Chastain), the young CIA analyst tasked with the seemingly impossible assignment. It’s cinematic journalism in the vein of “All the President’s Men” and “Zodiac.”
The good: Basically, everything. “Zero Dark Thirty” was my pick for the best film of 2012 due to the feat accomplished by director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal despite the incredible level of difficulty. By interviewing hundreds of individuals involved in the dangerous mission, the duo packs 10 years’ worth of tragedy, false leads, bureaucratic dead ends and – ultimately – victory into an unrelentingly tense 140 minutes. Thanks to Bigelow’s deft hand and a phenomenal cast led by Chastain (a guaranteed Best Actress nominee) and Clarke, the narrative never feels overwhelming. It’s nice to experience a film that treats its audience like adults.
The not-so-good: Unfortunately, because the movie doesn’t spoon-feed viewers, it has been overshadowed by a debate regarding its supposed defense of torture. Anyone remotely paying attention to the proceedings should realize the film does no such thing. Just because Bigelow and Boal note that torture occurred doesn’t mean they’re condoning it.
Rated R for strong violence and language.
Who’s in it: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Robert Patrick and Nick Nolte.
What it’s about: In 1949 Los Angeles, mobster Mickey Cohen (Penn) owns practically everything, including a lot of cops and judges. It’s impossible for the good guys to take him on, until the chief of police (Nolte) finally snaps. He enlists Sgt. John O’Mara (Brolin) to put together an under-the-radar team tasked with dismantling Cohen’s criminal empire piece by piece. His squad includes cops played by Gosling, Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Giovanni Ribisi. Of course, the whole operation could fall apart at any moment due to Gosling’s character’s relationship with Cohen’s girlfriend (Stone).
The good: The film’s cast is unquestionably stellar, though I’m guessing it’s not difficult to find actors who want to dress up like old school detectives, gangsters and femmes fatales. Gosling and Stone are solid, but they don’t have a lot to do. The flick actually belongs to the supporting cast, especially Patrick, who owns every scene he’s in. Director Ruben Fleischer and screenwriter Will Beall do a somewhat decent job of creating an interesting world, though you’re crazy if you believe this is remotely close to the “true story” it’s being billed as. I also enjoyed the attempts at 1940s-style dialogue, even if they’re not always successful.
The not-so-good: There’s no substance to the flick and no subtlety whatsoever in the performances. Brolin definitely looks the part, but his delivery is halfhearted at best. Penn chews a ton of scenery, but he brings no depth to his character. You can tell the movie is trying its best to be the next “L.A. Confidential” or “The Untouchables,” but it never even comes close. It’s easy to remember iconic scenes from those films years after watching them. I’m trying to recall the specifics of “Gangster Squad” just a few days later.
(Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material.)
Who’s in it: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, and Robert Duvall.
What it’s about: After five people are murdered by an expert sniper, police quickly arrest the culprit. However, the man claims he’s innocent and tells the cops to find Jack Reacher (Cruise). The mysterious drifter finds them first and tells them he’s there to make sure their suspect is truly guilty. Instead, he uncovers a conspiracy and some truly nasty bad guys.
The good: Thanks to Christopher McQuarrie’s sharp screenplay and solid direction, “Jack Reacher” is a fun throwback to the action thrillers of the late-’80s and early-’90s. Cruise is far from the character described in Lee Child’s books (nobody would mistake the diminutive actor for a 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound brawler), but the flick makes him appropriately badass. Nothing about the story is remotely realistic, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed watching Cruise play the guy who’s always 10 steps ahead of everyone else.
The not-so-good: You’ll forget all about “Jack Reacher” by the time you get back to your car. It’s a fun trip to the theater, but look elsewhere if you desire something with narrative weight. I also got a kick out of Pike’s only-in-the-movies wardrobe, chosen by someone who has apparently never seen a defense attorney in her life. I’m no legal expert, but it can’t be a good idea for a busty blonde to hang out (no pun intended) with accused criminals while wearing skintight sweaters cut down to her navel.