And the Oscar goes to… Flux’s Best Picture nominee roundup

Zero Dark Thirty

With Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow continues her oeuvre of gritty shaky-cam war dramas, which for this reviewer at least come every so slightly short of the mark.

In The Hurt Locker, her Oscar-winning two fingers to her ex-husband, the Avatar-master James Cameron, Bigelow dealt with the stress, fatigue and depression which can blight soldiers during their time defusing bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here, in Zero Dark Thirty, she attempts to delve deeper into the psyche of a woman charged with finding Osama Bin Laden.

The film is, from the off, a drag. Beginning with the terrified phone calls of 9/11, this is a clear signpost from Bigelow for everyone to strap on the helmet, don the stars and the stripes, and declare holy war on the Jihadists.
Our heroine, played by the nominated Jessica Chastain, carries with her very little charisma and none of the oomph which personified great heroines of our time. Ridley, Clarice Starling, and even Jessie from Toy Story could do a better job of inspiring sympathy from an audience, and no amount of snappy dialogue is going to change that.
The hunt for Bin Laden is laden down with paperwork, and indeed so is this film. Lengthy scenes of dialogue fatigue the audience, with no real end in sight until the last half-hour. Admittedly, the moment when the team believe they have found Bin Laden’s lair is spine-tingling, and credit should be given to Mark Strong for yet another excellent performance as the FBI agent hamstrung by the red tape.

The film picks up in the last half hour when the Navy SEALS finally kick down the door and kick some butt, but it’s too little and too late for this film, which suffers from a chronic lack of tension, suspense, likeable characters and dramatic depth. Zero Dark Thirty? They got the zero part right.

BEST BIT:
The night raid on Bin Laden’s house, when it finally arrives.
WORST BIT: Chastain’s wet-towel performance, inexplicably nominated for an Oscar.
AWARDS: Best Director, if the Academy is high?

Django Unchained

How do you re-invent a genre? Do you whisk up a script with all the old favourite scenarios, cast all the big names and throw heaps of money at it? Or do you ask Quentin Tarantino to give it a go? With Django Unchained, we get our answer.

Django Unchained tells the story of a black slave who is freed by Dr. King Schultz, a bounty-hunter who needs him to assist in a mission. The pair strike up a friendship, but Django is unwilling to let his past life go that easily.

From the beginning, this is a film completely devoid of bullshit. Tarantino, much like his hero, seems to be concerned with only one thing: blowing down the doors and unleashing hell.

With this tale of Django, Dr. King Schultz and Calvin Candie, we’re taken on an epic journey through one of the most ugly passages of human history: that of slavery and America’s sickening infliction of violence and cruelty onto its black population. The director deals with this subject manner in typical fashion: with an unblinking eye and an expert hand, though also with his tongue often planted firmly in his cheek.

This film thoroughly deserves its spot amongst the Best Film nominees, and its cast deserves a lot more nods than the Academy deemed appropriate. Leonardo DiCaprio is career-reviving as the despicable child emperor Calvin Candie, a man who finds it acceptable to coerce black man into death-matches, naked in his living room. DiCaprio’s performance is positively hair-raising, leaving him to spar for top-performance position with co-star Christoph Waltz, darling of Tarantino (and rightly so) and Samuel L. Jackson, who has far too much fun playing the deliciously despicable house-slave Patrick.

Jamie Foxx is enjoyable as the sullen and vengeful Django, but he is saddled (pun intended) with probably the least interesting role of the lot. Waltz is predictably excellent as Dr. Schultz, an actor whose confidence mirrors that of his director’s.

This is not a piece for the faint-hearted, and the abundant use of words that Flux will not print can begin to grate very quickly. The verbal and physical violence inflicted on black Americans at this time was repulsive, and Tarantino glories in the savagery of the time with gusto.

The superiority of this film cannot be described within a few columns in a Flux review. Tarantino’s flawless melding of music and film is breath-taking, exemplified perfectly in the chilling scene of the Klan night ambush, where scores of hooded white figures charge over a hill towards our sleeping hero’s tent. A slightly overlong running time will make it tough viewing for some, but for those with a love of cinema and drama, this is a film which delight, dazzle and dumbfound viewers. The best of the bunch.

Best Bit: Samuel L. Jackson being typically sublime as house-slave Patrick.
Worst Bit: Tarantino’s acting.
Awards: It deserves a hell of a lot more than it will get – Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Film.

Lincoln

By the publicity for Steven Spielberg’s new Oscar juggernaut, one could be forgiven the old master had returned to old form – a form that delivered The Colour Purple, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. Those who were taken in by fawning reviews from many reputable sources will be sadly disappointed by this film, which sags and creaks under the immense weight of its subject matter.

Little more than a 1800s West Wing, Lincoln pits Daniel Day-Lewis’s soft-spoken president against prejudice, the warring factions of the South, and his own family. While Day-Lewis pulls off a good Lincoln, this is not a role for which we will remember him – rarely is the actor handed any real meat or dialogue of substance, and it’s with the script that most of this film’s problems lie.

While beginning amongst the torrid conflict of the Civil War, and with small touches that remind us of Spielberg’s epic war of Saving Private Ryan, it’s hard to describe Lincoln as much more than a lot of men in a room talking, with very little real tension, derring-do or even excitement.

Half-baked storylines like Lincoln’s relationship with his wife and his rebellious son come and go like steam trains, but never leave a lasting effect on the viewer. The cast is a notable ensemble, with solid performances coming from Sally Field, James Spader and an enjoyable Tommy Lee Jones.

We all know that slavery was awful, and we know that Lincoln was a great President. Do we give enough credit to the man? Perhaps not, and it was the job of Spielberg’s drab and dark drama to help us do that. Did it succeed? For this reviewer, the answer is categorically “No.”

BEST BIT: Day Lewis surely romping towards another Best Actor gong.
WORST BIT: The over-worthy dialogue: “ We must cure ourselves of slavery and end this pestilential war! This amendment is that cure!”
AWARDS: Best Actor, and may scrape an undeserved Best Film.

Nick Sheridan

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