JC Chandor’s third film in four years, and possibly his best, firmly establishes him as a leading voice for a new generation of gifted filmmakers taking up the history of classic cinema and creating the future out of the past. His three films, a dialogue-heavy corporate thriller, a dialogue-free survival parable knowing desperation as well as quiet agony, and now a tone poem to a city in the guise of a ’70s-styled crime thriller, all owe an equal amount to the nervy, alert grit of ’70s cinema and add on a modernist, even impressionist edge to focus more on space and abstract mood to go with the concrete grime of his films’ physicality.
Certainly, he seems heading even further in this direction, confident here (as he was in his previous film) with moving away from the crutch of dialogue that somewhat hindered his debut directorial effort. His trek is all the more exciting because he hasn’t yet developed a narrative singularity, or even a commonality of tone. His films are joined by a focus on process as a means to define character, but they do not necessarily feel like the work of one director. If he is an auteur, he rejects the defeating sense of personal sameness and stuffy inflexibility so often prone to directors who stick to one style and theme without fail. He’s an invigorating breath of fresh air, a director ready to tackle anything with verve, panache, physicality, and poetry.
First things first, Christopher Nolan is not a particularly good writer. Generally working with brother Jonathan Nolan in their most archly self-important holier-than-thou register, their scripts reek of arbitrary complication and self-important puzzle-box trickery designed to bowl you over with highfalutin airs. He doesn’t have an acerbic bone in his body, and his films mask their non-personal nature by confusing better story with more story. Interstellar may be his messiest screenplay yet, shifting course every half-hour, developing certain ideas only to drop them almost completely because it saw something shiny in the distance. And then it has the gall to return to them later like they are the capper to a fully nourished, satisfying through-line when in reality they are simply shots in the dark. On paper, Interstellar is pretty terrible. Continue reading
Much has been written about Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s dramatization of the hunt for Osama bin Laden through the eyes of fictional CIA officer Maya Lambert (Jessica Chastain). By a wide-margin, it’s the best reviewed film of a year generally considered a pretty sturdy, upright twelve months for films. It’s been praised as a more-than-worthy follow-up to director Bigelow’s and screenwriter Mark Boal’s Oscar-winning previous release The Hurt Locker and at one point it was all but assured to win its year’s round of awards. Many consider it a seminal docu-drama on America’s role in the global sphere and its much-debated commitment to combating terrorism elsewhere in the world as well as what many would argue instituting its own form of US terrorism in its place. Whatever your opinion about that, it’s weighty material, and more than one person has claimed that Zero Dark Thirty will stand the test of history as a companion piece to the numerous books, documentaries, and journal articles written about America’s involvement in the Middle East during the past decade. Continue reading