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Picks and Pans Main: Movies

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Zero Dark Thirty

Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle | R |


Success, as they say, has many fathers. In the killing of Osama bin Laden, proud papas from President Obama to SEAL Team 6 earned kudos aplenty-and justifiably so, given the monstrosity of bin Laden’s crimes. But with all due respect to all those dads, it’s time to meet Mom.

Few people know the identity of the real-life female CIA agent who hunted bin Laden, but Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow calls her Maya (Chastain). You’ll recognize Maya before we’ve even been properly introduced, because she’s the only pretty redhead in Pakistan assisting in the waterboarding of a detainee. It’s a warning of sorts: Zero Dark Thirty lives in gray areas, brilliantly juxtaposing the perverse intimacy of torture with the moral imperative to stop terrorism.

This masterful, merciless film (out Dec. 19) also gives Chastain her best shot yet at an Oscar, as she constructs Maya out of vibrating steel, buzzing with determination to catch her quarry. When May 1, 2011, comes and the SEAL team heads out to fulfill the mission in the film’s terrifically tense final scenes, there’s a weird but palpable sense of regret that Maya can’t join them. After all, it’s her baby.

Hyde Park on Hudson

Laura Linney, Bill Murray | R |


It’s a fun idea for a movie: Margaret “Daisy” Stuckley (Linney), the frumpy distant cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Murray), may have had an affair with the legendary President. Too bad she doesn’t have much to say for herself in this frustratingly uneven historical comedy. While Murray makes a solid case for his Oscar chances as FDR, Linney’s Daisy is so maddeningly dull, she isn’t even in the center of the action. Instead the film focuses on a visit from Britain’s reluctant monarch George VI (Samuel West) and his wife, Elizabeth (Olivia Colman)-fans of The King’s Speech will be delight-ed-in which FDR gets to look charming and presidential. Cherish those moments, because the rest of the time he looks like a philandering creep. There’s a thin line between humanizing a dead President and demonizing him.