1 Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelo’s follow up to The Hurt Locker, a film about the Iraq war, follows a woman on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. This film was strongly criticized for seeming to justify the use of “enhanced interrogation” methods. In my opinion, that criticism is deserved. If I had not heard the criticisms, I would have walked away thinking that torture helped to lead to the capture of Osama Bin Laden, when apparently it did not.
However, despite that, I still have to recommend this film.
Jessica Chastain is simply amazing in this performance, both in the larger than life moments and the quiet moments. I love the growth that she gives to her character, from the novice to the established operative obsessed with the hunt for Bin Laden. She even handles the twisted feeling of bereavement that her character feels when Bin Laden is finally killed. She has spent all of her career hunting for this one man. Now he is gone, and what does she do next?
To top it off, the scene at the end of film, when we see the SEAL team strike the compound, is simply riveting. I loved that scene. It was so excited and satisfying. I won’t deny that it was really thrilling to see them take out Bin Laden, and I’m not going to apologize for that.
It’s also an exciting because it gives a woman a chance to express emotions that we don’t normally associate with women. We do not think of women as desiring revenge or blood. We don’t normally think of women fanaticizing about killing Osama Bin Laden. But we did. It is really great to see Jessica’s character say, “Bin Laden is there. And you’re gonna kill him for me.”
2 Sense and Sensibility
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Emma Thompson’s masterful adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, based on her screenplay. I love this film. It tells the story of Eleanor and Marianne, two sisters who are both in a terrible bind. Their father has died, leaving his estate to his son, their half brother, and she and her mother are left impoverished. (It has to be said that this is a Jane Austen type of poverty. The women live in a cottage that is bigger than most normal sized American homes, and they still employ servants.) The two sisters are incredibly different people, and have a very different attitudes about love and relationships. Eleanor is very much governed by her head, and Marianne is governed by her heart. Unfortunately, neither one of them is spared from pain and heartache, but it all seems to work out well in the end.
This film, in an odd way, is a more romantic version of Austen. Jane Austen wrote at the beginning of the romantic period and yet she herself was not influenced by the movement. Her books are celebrations of rationalism and good judgment, rather than emotions. Characters such as Lydia or Marianne who make emotional decisions are often punished for it Characters who make rational decisions (such as marry rich men who they do not love) Still, Emma Thompson and director Ang Lee know that we go to Austen for romance and emotions, the kind of emotions that Austen herself would view with skepticism.
The film is beautifully shot, there are some wonderful characters, both major and minor, and the ridiculous characters are appropriately ridiculous. It is deeply moving as well, and at the heart of it is a very important question for every human: what is the proper relationship that we should have with our feelings? It is dangerous to be governed by them, and dangerous to ignore them. I always hope that the two sisters will learn a little bit from each other, and that there will be happy endings all around (though it has to be said, neither girl in this story gets the fairy tale happy ending that lucky duck Elizabeth Bennet gets.)
3 Rosemary’s Baby
I understand that NBC is remaking this film in some capacity. Before watching the remake, I hope people will take the time to experience the original terrifying, disturbing masterpiece that is Rosemary’s Baby.
Rosemary is a young, newlywed woman who is pregnant with her first child. She also has very nosy and very disturbing neighbors. Her pregnancy is a difficult one, and she begins to suspect that her neighbors are witches who have evil designs on her unborn baby.
This film feels very naturalistic. Polanski grounds the film in reality. It’s also important because there is one point in the film when the viewer is not sure that Rosemary is right about her neighbors. The film is bleak, as Polanski seems to be. It is also very scary with almost no gore, the fear comes from the atmosphere, the growing sense of paranoia, the confusion over what is real and what is not real, and the fear of a woman’s first pregnancy.
The performances are also excellent all around, and Mia Farrow carries the film quite nicely.
So, I’m not going to say do not watch NBC’s remake. However, I will say, watch this one first.