Redacted

The Report

by Hope Madden

Admit it. Own up to it. Hold yourself accountable. Then our country can move on.

Oh right, also, I saw The Report this week.

For his clear-eyed reminder of what post 9/11 America was like, writer/director Scott Z. Burns takes a page from Adam McKay’s book of outrage, leaving both tongue and cheek behind.

Daniel Jones (Adam Driver, who is having one hell of a year) is a Senate staffer working for Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening, eerily good). He’s been tasked with investigating the CIA’s post 9/11 “enhanced interrogation” tactics.

Among the heads of the CIA are Thomas Eastman (Michael C. Hall) and John Brennan (Ted Levine).

That Burns cast two actors known best for playing serial killers as CIA leaders is slyly hilarious and indicative of the contempt the filmmaker has for those responsible for this shameful page in US history.

The Report brims with rage, justifiably so, but Burns never stoops to melodrama, rarely even preaches. Much of his ire is delivered via Driver’s sullen stare. Driver is characteristically amazing. Though his performance is largely internal, it spills over with the ache and anger of a citizen who loves his country and cannot believe what he sees happening.

The entire cast—and it’s a big one—impresses, from bewildered CIA staff to opportunists looking to cash in, from battered inmates to White House Chief of Staff. With limited screen time, each performer establishes a character, not a cardboard villain or hero, and the contribution elevates the entire film.

Burns’s script stumbles periodically over exposition, but given the sheer volume of information he covers, it’s a fault that’s easy to forgive. Somehow he manages to contain in just under two hours what Daniels himself couldn’t fit inside 7000 pages.

Importantly, though the film does look to enlighten us on the corruption, greed and fearmongering that led the US to such sadistic measures, Burns wisely leans more heavily on a larger theme of admission and oversight as the only steps toward regaining self-respect and the respect of the world.

Timely.

Gerard Has the Con

Hunter Killer

by Hope Madden

On a scale from Gerard Butler to 10, how bad is Hunter Killer?

It’s not London Has Fallen bad. Or Gods of Egypt bad. It’s not Geostorm bad, but what is, really?

But is it any good?

Well, no. Don’t get loony. I’m just saying, it could be worse. You know, because Gerard Butler stars.

That doesn’t make him the worst actor in history. It’s just that he’s not especially talented and he makes impressively awful films. And yet, the king of January inexplicably gets a prime October release with this one, playing Captain Joe Glass.

He’s not an Annapolis guy, but that doesn’t mean he can’t successfully lead his first crew through Arctic waters to save the President of Russia from a botched coups attempt.

If you’re worried about subtitles—well, you’re clearly not familiar with the work of Mr. Butler. No, fortunately the Russians only speak Russian when it doesn’t matter if we understand what they say. The moment the dialog is important they switch (sometimes mid-scene) to English. How lucky is that?

I’m sure we’d never be able to follow this plot otherwise. It’s not like every scene is telegraphed in advanced.

Director Donovan Marsh’s film is not unwatchable. It’s shallowly packaged derivative entertainment, boasting passable water scenes and hand-to-hand action choreography that’s entirely adequate. It’s the drama that will make you wince.

There are three primary focal points. Firstly, the drama back in DC, where level heads try to outmaneuver war mongers. Gary Oldman plays a monger.

Everybody follows up their Oscar with garbage. Don’t fret for Gary.

Common plays one of those level heads. This is literally Common’s third film in three weeks. The prior two—The Hate U Give and All About Nina—were both very good. Nobody bats 1000.

The second dramatic focus takes place on the ground—thank God, because honestly, without the small military unit landing covertly on Russian soil with their drones, swagger and witty banter, this movie would never leave a confined area and you would feel even more trapped by it.

The highest drama is, of course, hundreds of feet underwater with noble everyman Cap. Glass. You know what he has? A level head.

Just not, you know, a ton of talent.





Beltway Badass

Miss Sloane

by Hope Madden

I’m curious. Is every film going to take on sharper, darker political meaning post-election? Because Miss Sloane definitely does.

First time screenwriter Jonathan Perera’s much-lauded screenplay documents Elizabeth Sloane, DC super-lobbyist. Driven and single-minded to a nearly sociopathic degree, Sloane finally finds a line she’s unwilling to cross when the gun lobby wants to hire her to make guns more appealing to women.

She abandons the big time firm that demands she rethink her gun-control stance and goes to work instead for the liberal opposition.

Though far from flawless, Miss Sloane has a lot to offer. Mainly, Jessica Chastain.

Her fierce performance and comfort with ambiguity come together in a turn that mesmerizes. This is an anti-hero, and Chastain gives her enough savvy, contempt, drive, self-loathing and vulnerability to make her fascinating. Not knowable, but forever provocative.

Though no other character in the film is nearly so fleshed out, a game supporting cast – including the welcome Michael Stuhlbarg and a pitch-perfect Mark Strong – help balance Chastain’s blistering presence.

Director John Madden – whose work tends toward the safer and tamer (Shakespeare in Love, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) – here amplifies Chastain’s fiery delivery with frenetic camera movement and sudden close ups. He creates a pace that keeps attention, even when the screenplay begins to slog.

What’s exceptional about the film, aside from Chastain, is the way its core plotline and its greater themes work together. The us-versus-them battle, with each lobbyist one-upping the other in the most unconscionable (yet clever) ways, commands attention. But beneath all that Miss Sloane clarifies the way in which the American public is never privy to true information.

What we get, in its stead, is the narrative being pushed in increasingly obfuscated ways by different stakeholders.

The film builds to speechifying and heavy moralizing, often feeling too clever for its own good. It settles, while its titular firebrand would not. But before all the self-righteous Aaron Sorkinisms, Madden, Perera and Chastain get an awful lot right.

They push envelopes when it comes to a female anti-hero, answering only as many questions as necessary and leaving room for Chastain’s performance to fill in some gaps.

Together they also unleash an appropriately cynical view of a political system that is rotten.

Verdict-3-0-Stars