Jessica Chastain Reviews


These are excerpts from reviews of Jessica Chastain's films and plays from a variety of sources. Click Full Review to see more from any review. See also Jessica Chastain Biography, Jessica Chastain Movies, and Jessica Chastain on Stage on Chastain Central.

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2012 is Jessica's Second Big Year for Movies!

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Chastain Central chooses reviews based on three primary criteria:

For additional reviews, see Jessica's pages on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes

Movies in Alpha Order

The Debt
The Help
Killing Fields

Madagascar 3
Orient Express

Take Shelter
Tree of Life
Wilde Salome
Zero Dark Thirty

Stage Productions

The Heiress

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01-18-13 Mama is Jessica's Best Performance Yet (Movieline) In Tree of Life, Jessica Chastain played a mother who could float. In Mama, she's attacked by one. Chastain shot this dignified little thriller in fall 2011 during the stretch when literally every arthouse theater played at least two of her pictures-between Tree, Coriolanus, The Help, Take Shelter, Texas Killing Fields and The Debt, she was indie cinema's inescapable new queen. Universal intended to release the Guillermo del Toro-produced Mama last October, but shelved it until the week after Chastain was nominated for an Oscar for Zero Dark Thirty. Is this her reputation-besmirching Norbit? Pshaw - for my money, it's her best performance yet. Full Review To Index

01-18-13 Mama Will Not Be Jessica's Downfall at the Oscars (Television Without Pity) One of the Hollywood's enduring urban legends is that Eddie Murphy's dual role as henpecked husband and plus-sized monster wife in the alleged comedy Norbit -- which opened three weeks before the Academy Awards -- cost him his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Dreamgirls…even if [Jessica] doesn't win the statue on February 24 -- it definitely won't be because of the movie. Compared to Norbit and Bride Wars, Mama is practically a masterpiece of its particular genre. And Chastain is actually quite good in it, bringing an unexpected dimension to the typical horror heroine role. Her physical transformation from red-headed ingénue to raven-haired Goth is striking as well and further burnishes her cred as a big-screen chameleon. (Too bad all the actors around her are so bland and boring.) This is a performance she can be proud of, not hide from. Full Review To Index
01-18-13 Nothing Elevates a B-movie like A-level Talent: Jessica, Nélisse, and Charpentier (msn) It's nice to see a horror film where camera movement and carefully-contemplated camera placement are used as delicately and exquisitely as a surgeon's knife. Released in the dead zone of January films, "Mama" is a sincere shocker - a modern horror film that's as smart as it is scary, as well-acted as it is well-constructed, as capable of coherent story logic as it is capable of egregious jump-scare moments…The girls both talk about "Mama," a protector-figure psychiatry and logic suggest they've invented in their isolation. But when we see someone - some thing - has followed Victoria and Lilly to their new home to play and visit, it doesn't bode well for Lucas and Annabel. Or anyone. In an age of illogical, inconsistent, silly ghost stories and over-shot, under-written horror films like the slapdash, tedious "Sinister" and its ilk, "Mama" stands floating head and dislocated shoulders above its supernatural cinematic peers…As for Chastian, she's exemplary; nothing elevates a B-movie like A-level talent, and she's committed to the cause…Nélisse and Charpentier also give excellent, smart performances, believable and moving. (When Lilly figures out the difference between Mama and Annabel and conveys it without a word, or Veronica quietly and firmly warns Annabel to not stroke her hair because "She gets jealous," you realize precisely how good the child actors are.)… while a few coincidences help things sail along when the ball is rolling, they aren't especially infuriating. And Mama herself - a mix of CGI, practical effects and actor Javier Botet's body, along with many voices - is a distinctive, unique creation made-to-measure for a modern ghost story, not just a recycled off-the-rack blur of CGI and darkness. "Mama" may seem indistinguishable from a crop of other recent, lesser horror films, but if you give it a chance to surprise (and startle) you, it's a superb, spooky, fearlessly fresh film that's not interested in either the easy happy ending or the lazy set-up for a sequel. Instead, "Mama" wants to, tries hard to, and truly does scare you senseless. Full Review To Index
01-18-13 Mama Has a Killer Final Scene (Television Without Pity) It's Got a Killer Final Scene. The one area where it does feel like del Toro brought his full influence to bear is in the climactic sequence, which finds the girls having to choose between their two surrogate mother figures, Mama and Annabel. One of the hallmarks of del Toro's work has always been a pronounced sympathy for the freaks and monsters that populate his movies; you frequently get the sense that he's more enamored of them than the humans. After skulking around the edges of the frame for much of the movie, this extended final sequence finally gets at the heart of what makes Mama tick and it's an unexpectedly emotional and rewarding payoff. It's worth sitting through the rest of the movie just to get to that knockout of an ending. Full Review To Index
01-17-13 Mama Scare the Wits out of Us Despite Clichés (TheChronicleHerald) Mama succeeds in scaring the wits out of us and leaving some lingering, deeply creepy images, despite indulging in many of the aforementioned cliches - and about a half-dozen more…In addition to at least three or four jump-in-your-seat stingers, we get some of the most creatively chilling nightmare sequences in recent memory. A stylized dream (which is really a transferred memory) set in the 19th century, in which we see a crazed young woman creating bloody terror before leaping off a cliff with her newborn, all of it shown from the madwoman's point of view? That's a lot more innovative than anything we're likely to see in yet another film about a plodding behemoth in a mask chasing dumb teenagers through the woods…For the longest time we don't see much of the ghostly Mama, who apparently has been alternately caring for and terrorizing the girls all these years and has made the trip with them to suburbia. She flashes by the screen, or we see just the top of her head as she zips about the house. Once we do see her, yipes. Thanks to a combination of CGI and a performance by the extremely thin, extremely tall Spanish actor Javier Botet, this is one frightful Mama. The real mother in the story is Annabel, who slowly sheds her tough-talking, who-gives-a-bleep exterior as her nurturing instincts take over. It's worlds away from Chastain's Oscar-nominated turn in Zero Dark Thirty and further proof she's one of the finest actors of her generation…Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse are terrific as the little girls. Full Review To Index
01-17-13 Mama Director Muschietti Answers Too Many of His Mysteries (TIME) Zero Dark Thirty's Jessica Chastain is highly likely to win an Academy Award for Best Actress (she's the favorite at this point). At the Golden Globes… She's on top of the world and nothing, not even appearing in a new release she's way too good for, the horror flick Mama, can bring her down. Mama is clumsily written and choppily edited, but Chastain doesn't have a bad scene in it… why did the children resort to walking on all fours - a habit Lilly can't totally break, even when she returns to civilization - when Mama herself, in the gleefully spooky glimpses we get of her, appears to be a towering two-legged presence? Is it because crawling, feral children speak to the modern parent's nightmare of a child who misses the pediatrician's milestones? Certainly the images of weird little Lilly scooting around on all fours are some of the creepiest in the movie…But those ideas are fairly well buried under a heap of trite actions…Even while he's letting logic lapse hither and yon, Muschietti answers too many of his mysteries. There's little left for the audience to figure out; the origins of Mama herself are handed to us on a silver platter (well, to be more precise, in various files or dream sequences). The scenes leading up to the climax are rushed, edited as if with a hacksaw, but the ending itself, with Chastain the fierce heroine, has some power. Mama won't hurt this rising star. It will just introduce her to a wider audience, the one that has no patience for Malick or slow-moving CIA manhunts. Full Review To Index
01-16-13 Jessica Adds Another Gold Star to Her Resume with Mama (Green Bay Press Gazette) "Mama" is a reminder that the best chills don't involve chainsaws, blood and guts. Horror is a product of empathy - in this case, fearing for the safety of small children and the reluctant twenty-something rock musician (Jessica Chastain) stuck with caring for them…thanks to financial arrangements made by the conniving psychotherapist (Daniel Kash) who sees glory in their case, the D.C. couple moves to a free house in Richmond and tries to bring the girls - Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) doesn't speak, but only gurgles, grunts, eats cherries and sleeps with tree limbs - back into the human race. Thanks to whatever kept them alive for five years in the woods, that's not going to be easy…what makes "Mama" work are the performances co-writer/ director Andres Muschietti got from the little girls, who are open-faced marvels, conflicted about where their loyalties lie - with "Don't call me Mom," or with "Mama." And Chastain, far from slumming in a horror film just as she's fighting for that "Zero Dark Thirty" Oscar, adds another gold star to her resume. Full Review To Index
01-16-13 Mama has a Strong Sense of Dread from Beginning to End (Shockya) The core concept of "Mama" is notably horrifying; a couple brings two abandoned children into their home, one of which is borderline rabid. You're thrilled the girls are rescued and back in the care of people who'll love them, but they're unpredictable and threatening, infusing the film with a great deal of suspense. However, the supernatural and historical components of the piece are far less effective…On the supernatural side, Mama comes with some creepy imagery, but she and her haunted house tricks are so clearly visual effects, they instantly become far less frightening. The movie's best jolts are tacky jump scares, but…there is a strong sense of dread from beginning to end, and it's further enhanced by Victoria and Lilly. Lilly's behavior in particular is truly unnerving as it's just downright disturbing watching the kid crawl around on the floor, leap out her bedroom window and indulge in an odd assortment of foods…Charpentier's performance as Victoria, on the other hand, is far more calculating. Not only is she our prime source of information as the only character that interacts with the people around her and Mama, but she controls the arc of the story because as Victoria changes as a person, the situation changes…Chastain as a hardcore rocker with a semi-sleeve tattoo is a tough sell. However, Annabel's amusing lack of a motherly nature and overall likability keeps the character strong enough. Coster-Waldau, however, loses the spotlight and he loses it fast. Lucas is presented as the anchor of the film early on, but then, all of a sudden, he disappears from the narrative…the film stays afloat thanks to a combination of solid performances and an intriguingly whimsical tone. Full Review To Index
01-16-13 Mama is Well-made with a Fresh Plot and Certainly Worth a Trip to the Theater (HorrorMovies) If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy…As the film opens, a tearful father drives his two young daughters, Victoria and Lilly, up a snowy mountain road. He's distraught because he has just killed his wife. Jeffrey is driving too fast and the car slides over the side of the mountain, crashing into a tree. They make their way to a deserted cabin in the woods. As little Victoria looks out the window, her father puts a gun to the back of her head. But before he can pull the trigger, something black and unnatural grabs him from behind and snaps his neck. Next we see the girls sitting in front of a fire, and an apple rolls out of the darkness towards them…Mama is most effective as a horror movie when we only see glimpses of Mama. The way she moves is particularly unnatural and frightening, and there are several good jump scares. Extensive use of CGI can be a distraction, though, and the level of fear diminishes at the end. All in all, Mama is a well-made movie with a fresh plot that's certainly worth a trip to the theater. Full Review To Index
01-16-13 Mama Never Delivers on Primal Terror Expectations (Village Voice) Mama never delivers the primal terror its premise would suggest. Instead, the movie-the first feature by Andy Muschietti, who co-scripted with his sibling Barbara and Neil Cross-distracts with too much foolishness: namely, Jessica Chastain plucking a bass guitar in a jet-black pageboy wig, tattoo sleeve, and Misfits T-shirt. Mama opens with news of financial panic being broadcast from a car radio and a blond, myopic moppet hearing a gunshot. Her unraveling father scoops up her and her toddler sister, driving away so recklessly that their car goes off a cliff. The three stumble upon a cabin in the woods, filled with dusty but still fabulous mid-century modern furniture. Dad is about to harm his older daughter but is stopped by a cadaverous, shape-shifting creature: her mother…Mama never registers much beyond a few scares as the beanpole spirit comes racing toward the camera…Mama does at least feature intriguing, complex performances from its young stars. Victoria and Lilly's growing attachment to Annabel leaves them guilt-ridden about betraying Ghost Mom…But little Lilly, her hair a mess of matted tangles, scarfing down food with dirty hands, never fully abandons her first love, evincing more ambivalence and unruliness than those twice her size. It is she, and not Chastain's cardboard punk rocker, who is most deserving of the Misfits shirt. Full Review To Index
01-15-13 Mama a Playful, Elegantly-made Horror Film (Hollywood Reporter) A playful, elegantly made little horror film, Mama teasingly sustains a game of hide-and-seek as it tantalizes the audience with fleeting apparitions of the title character while maintaining interest in two deeply disturbed little orphan girls…Universal is refreshingly mindful of the less-is-more horror guidelines employed by 1940s master Val Lewton, not to mention Japanese ghost stories, but the PG-13 rating might prove too restrictive for the gory tastes of male core genre fans. Still, less bloodthirsty female teens could make up the difference at the box office, as the film provokes enough tension and gasps to keep susceptible viewers grabbing their armrests or the arms of those next to them. In essence, Mama represents a throwback and a modest delight for people who like a good scare but prefer not to be terrorized or grossed out…Muschietti…concentrated on the personal arc of Annabel, a self-absorbed scenester who gradually discovers something resembling a maternal instinct as the girls' emotional traumas are thrust upon her. Victoria, a bright child who had learned how to speak well before her father's freak-out, isn't such a problem, but Lilly remains more animal, or even insect, than human, scurrying around like a spider in her own little universe…Muschietti does a pretty good job of sustaining one's interest until finally needing to let the cat (or whatever it is) out of the bag. What this very hairy thing turns out to be is scarcely any surprise at all, but it's still good for a few more startling moments before being revealed in its full and eerie glory. The director cheapens his work's feel by overly relying upon loud and abrupt musical cues to unsettle the viewer, but the enterprise otherwise sports a classy profile thanks to Antonio Riestra's refined cinematography, Michele Conroy's expert editing and generally top production values. Full Review To Index
01-15-13 Mama Provides Better than Average Horror Premise along with Some Cliché (shocktillyoudrop) The film's prologue and Mama's origin creates something that's more than just a haunted house movie although physically, Mama falls into the Japanese ghost territory of The Ring, The Grudge, et al. - long scraggly hair and movement as if every bone in her stick-thin body has been shattered and reassembled…Muschiettis' good timing at getting a super-hot Oscar-nominated actress like Chastain pays off, as does casting Coster-Waldau, although he's out of the equation for a good portion of the film. On the other hand, the young actress paying the younger daughter Lilly often steals scenes with her quirky behavior, crawling around on fours and playing with and sometimes eating bugs. She's quite a find because oftentimes she's even creepier than Mama while also bringing a welcome sense of humor to the film…Mama sometimes suffers whenever it tries to set up scares we've experienced in other movies. This is especially true when the psychiatrist more interested in the girls as a case study then for their own well-being heads towards being "Mama fodder," which is done in a way we've seen in far too many other films…while some may not be into the ending, I felt it was where things returned to more original territory by going in a different direction than the typical "happy ending." Mama benefits from a better than average horror premise and some clever bits, and that's often enough to make up for the more obvious moments that foray into cliché territory. Full Review To Index
01-09-13 First Mama Review (Comic Book Resources) Mama, the new supernatural thriller from director Andres Muschietti and producer Guillermo del Toro, is an enjoyable but flawed film, a charming scare-fest dragged down by poor character development and an inability to trust its audience. After a businessman snaps, kidnaps his two young daughters Victoria and Lilly (played by Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse) and disappears into thin air, his brother Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) sinks all of his money and time into trying to locate the missing family. Five years later, his obsession has pays off as his nieces are discovered living feral in the woods, with no trace of their father…A woman who practically throws a party after a negative pregnancy test and an "artist" who devotes all her free time to her (astoundingly terrible) band, Annabel becomes even more reluctant to serve as the girls' caretaker after learning that only Victoria can speak…Despite the insistence of the girls' shady therapist (Daniel Kash) that Mama is a figment of their imaginations, Annabel quickly realizes Mama is real, Mama is still visiting the girls … and Mama is not happy about Annabel taking her place…The best thing about the Universal Pictures film, like most of those del Toro is associated with, is the monstrous Mama herself. She's initially glimpsed out of the corner of the eye or hovering just out of focus, but when we finally do get the unencumbered view of the monster she's exactly as terrifying as those flashes suggests…the film plays with the idea of the monster in the closet, as Mama slithers under beds and behind open doors. Muschietti and co-writer Barbara Muschietti do a terrific job transforming Mama from horror-movie beast to three-dimensional character, all the more impressive by the fact that Mama speaks just once…Chastain's Annabel shines brightest when interacting with the kids, her apathy coming across clearly as she, Lilly and Victoria trade some of the film's funniest lines. Unfortunately Mama feels the need to drive home with a sledgehammer the message that Annabel doesn't want kids…Although there's a lot to love about Mama, the film would have been better off if all other characters and plot developments were jettisoned in favor of the engaging Annabel/girls/Mama conflict. It's a shame that Muschietti is compelled to bury his unique ghost story under a mountain of exposition, and not even the most tender Mama/Lilly scenes can make up for his reliance on tired Hollywood horror tropes. Full Review To Index

Zero Dark Thirty

01-07-13 Zero Dark Thirty is an Instant Classic (Neon Tommy) In what can only be considered a true Congressional stamp of approval, an investigation into the movie Zero Dark Thirty (in theaters now) has allegedly been launched to find out if the CIA gave improper cooperation to the film's producers…While this investigation is taking place, the film is simultaneously being called "grossly inaccurate and misleading", by the same senators that have launched said investigation. What parts of Zero Dark Thirty senators and Congress think Americans won't be able to handle isn't exactly clear… Not quite lost in all the grandstanding, smoke screens and pointless allegations are two irrefutable facts, one boldly obvious and one hidden in the details: Zero Dark Thirty is an instant American cinema classic and it's arguably the most powerful feminist movie ever made in American cinema history. While most of the actors in the film should be commended for their efforts, Jason Clarke is vicious for the ages and Jimmy Gandolfini as Leon Panetta was an especially creative and rewarding casting achievement, it feels a little misguided to commend actors when there are real people out there who lived the scenes depicted. Relative newcomer Jessica Chastain's rousing turn as Maya - who is said to be based on a real, unidentified person - is the exception. Hers is a performance that has truly made history…every American should go see Zero Dark Thirty and take the time to remember the name of CIA operative Maya. Full Review To Index

01-02-13 Ebert: As Maya, Jessica Shows Her Versatility (Sun Times) The film stars Jessica Chastain, the ubiquitous new star who now dominates the American acting landscape. One could even argue that film is Jessica Chastain and her character…The subtext deserves a movie of its own, about a disagreement between macho males who feast on torture and hard-boiled guts, and a woman who depends on more on her intelligence and imagination…As Maya, Chastain shows again how versatile an actress she is. Apart from Meryl Streep, who else has appeared in new movies with such a range and ability to convince?...My guess is that much of the fascination with this film is inspired by the unveiling of facts, unclearly seen. There isn't a whole lot of plot -- basically, just that Maya thinks she is right, and she is. The back story is that Bigelow has become a modern-day directorial heroine, which may be why this film is winning even more praise than her masterful Oscar-winner "The Hurt Locker."…"Zero Dark Thirty" is a slam-bang action picture, depending on Maya's inspiration. One problem may be that Maya turns out to be correct, with a long, steady build-up depriving the climax of much of its impact and providing mostly irony. Full Review To Index
12-14-12 Negative Zero Dark Thirty Comments from 27 Sources (ggsidedocs) Zero Dark Thirty is a despicable movie, even if Bigelow and Boal didn't intend it that way. . . . Do yourself a favor, and don't go see this movie. Don't encourage film-making that at best offers ambiguity about torture, and at worst endorses it. Spend the two and a half hours and the $10 on something more valuable, and moral. Full Review To Index
12-10-12 Peter Bergen: Does Zero Dark Thirty Falsely Depict Torture as Effective? (CNN) "Zero Dark Thirty" is a likely shoo-in, deservedly, for Oscar nominations for best director (Kathryn Bigelow) and best screenplay (Mark Boal) and perhaps a slew of other categories…The compelling story told in the film captures a lot that is true about the search for al Qaeda's leader but also distorts the story in ways that could give its likely audience of millions of Americans the misleading picture that coercive interrogation techniques used by the CIA on al Qaeda detainees -- such as waterboarding, physical abuse and sleep deprivation -- were essential to finding bin Laden. This week, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee plans to vote on whether to approve the as-yet unreleased findings of a 6,000-page report about its three-year investigation into the secret CIA interrogation program that is depicted in "Zero Dark Thirty."…Endorsing the view that waterboarding was key to finding bin Laden does not seem to have been the intention of "Zero Dark Thirty's" filmmakers…But the fact is that about half an hour of the beginning of "Zero Dark Thirty" consists of scenes of an exhausted, bloodied al Qaeda detainee…These visceral scenes are, of course, far more dramatic than the scene where a CIA analyst says she has dug up some information in an old file that will prove to be a key to finding bin Laden…For the defenders of coercive interrogation techniques, the example of al-Qahtani and Ghul might seem to prove that these kinds of approaches actually worked, while for critics of such techniques, the cases of Mohammed and al-Libi show that coercion also produced false information. Of course, "Zero Dark Thirty" can't address in 2½ hours the whole complex tale of the CIA interrogation program, but an important strand of that tale is missing from the film. FBI officials were adamantly opposed to the use of coercive techniques by the CIA on al Qaeda detainees because they deemed them both unethical and counterproductive….Let's hope that the Senate Intelligence Committee report is largely declassified and made public. The American public has a right to know whether the coercive techniques that were used in its name actually worked or not. "Zero Dark Thirty" is a great piece of filmmaking and does a valuable public service by raising difficult questions most Hollywood movies shy away from, but as of this writing, it seems that one of its central themes -- that torture was instrumental to tracking down bin Laden -- is not supported by the facts. Full Review To Index
11-26-12 Jessica gives a Performance of Great Depth (Screen International) Chastain gives a performance of great depth, although it's one that isn't very showy. As the years grind away, the story keeps jumping ahead in time, which runs the risk of making Zero Dark Thirty feel episodic or disjointed, but it's through Maya's gradual transformation that the movie establishes an organic through-line. Chastain showed some inner fire in The Debt as a Mossad agent, but her Maya is a different creature entirely: a no-nonsense operative who has forgone any semblance of a personal life to get bin Laden…On occasion, Chastain can overdo Maya's hard-as-nails demeanour, but she compensates by suggesting that this woman has been so consumed by this decade-long mission that she long ago abandoned social niceties to achieve her goal…On a technical level, Zero Dark Thirty is a marvel, especially in its handling of the compound raid. Incorporating night-vision cameras and seamless special effects, cinematographer Greig Fraser gives the sequence a realism that's quite extraordinary. Prolific composer Alexandre Desplat produces one of his sparest and most effective recent scores, underlying the tension in key moments without overpowering the visuals. Full Review To Index
11-26-12 Jessica Chastain Turns the Double Trick (Movie City News) My pulse gets faster, I start being a little hyper-vigilant…and I start hoping, beat after beat, scene after scene, not to let the high disappear. And that's what I felt from the very first minutes of Zero Dark Thirty tonight. It stars with a masterful choice in remembering September 11, 2001. Daring, tough, fresh… really quite something. Cut to: Jason Clarke - spectacular here - starts the fire as a CIA agent who is quite skilled at torturing prisoners. And the introduction of the center of the story, Jessica Chastain. The three-act structure is quite strong. Act One: Chastian's Maya dives into the hands-on world of post-9/11 CIA efforts in the Middle East. Act Two: Seasoned, Maya gets some distance, but remains vigilant about pursuing her goal. Act Three: We live through history…There are some truly great performances by actresses this year…But Jessica Chastain turns the double trick…movie star stuff and the in-your-face character work…The supporting cast - and everyone else is supporting the one character with significance in each of the three acts - is flawless… when you run into a movie that has some real epic size, historic subject matter, thrills, a few great laughs, and boasts the skill set on display here… this is a different kind of collectable. Plus, you get three films for the price of one. Full Review To Index
11-25-12 Jessica is Minimalist but Powerful and likely to be Nominated Best Actress (hollywoodreporter) Zero Dark Thirty, written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow -- who both won Oscars for their last film, 2009's best picture winner The Hurt Locker -- screened Sunday for press on both coasts. The film provides a two-hour-and-40-minute overview of America's nearly decade-long effort to hunt down Osama bin Laden. As a moviegoing experience -- as it was in life -- it is a long, cerebral and emotionally draining story, but it holds interest throughout. And thanks to a minimalist but powerful star turn by Jessica Chastain -- an Oscar nominee last year for The Help -- as well as the filmmakers' painstaking attention to documented detail and remarkable third-act re-creation of the Navy SEALs' fateful mission, it is worth the journey… I am fairly confident that it will be rewarded with nominations for best actress and best original screenplay; the best picture and best director fields are particularly competitive this year, but I wouldn't be shocked if the film and Bigelow, the first woman to ever win the best director Oscar, managed to snag noms, as well…Chastain, surrounded by a team of solid supporting players…is essentially asked here to carry a movie for the first time, and she rises to the occasion. Full Review To Index
11-25-12 Jessica Performance a More Heavyweight Piece of Work than Jennifer Lawrence (Variety) "Zero" soon settles into a riveting tale. Almost all major awards are in play: picture, director, original screenplay and lead actress, not to mention supporting actor (Jason Clarke) and supporting actress (Jennifer Ehle). (Bigelow, Boal and the three thesps plus supporting actor Edgar Ramirez attended the post-screening Q&A tonight.) With almost no backstory off of which to work, Chastain nevertheless gives a dynamic, layered, feisty performance that is the film's backbone as it traverses time and geography from the 9/11 attacks to the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden. For all the pundit love that Jennifer Lawrence has received for "Silver Linings Playbook," Chastain's is a more heavyweight piece of work. Full Review To Index
11-25-12 While Her Male Colleagues Equivocate, Maya (Jessica) Sticks to Her Guns (Variety) Wildly more ambitious than "The Hurt Locker," yet nowhere near so tripwire-tense, this procedure-driven, decade-spanning docudrama nevertheless rivets for most of its running time by focusing on how one female CIA agent with a far-out hunch was instrumental in bringing down America's most wanted fugitive...Why...does it star Jessica Chastain, skeptics wondered, not realizing that Bigelow and Boal had reduced the spectacular assault on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, to the last half-hour in order to dedicate the rest to making history...By forcing partisan politics into the wings (President George W. Bush goes entirely unseen, while auds' only glimpse of President Obama is during a 2008 campaign interview), the duo effectively give gender politics the whole stage: "Zero Dark Thirty" presents the highest-profile U.S. military success of our lifetime as the work of a single woman, "Maya," inspired by a real CIA analyst...Maya's body language suggests a little girl, clearly uncomfortable with the waterboarding and sexual humiliation that were common practice in the morally hazy rendition era. When Dan leaves the room for a moment, the desperate prisoner tries appealing to her humanity. She wavers for only a moment before firing back, "You can help yourself by being truthful."...Maya may not be made of the same stuff as her male colleagues, but that's essential to the operation's success. While they equivocate and refuse to take action, she sticks to her guns and keeps track of the bureaucratic delays by counting the days in dry-erase marker on her superior's office window. Finally, when the off-camera Obama gives her mission the green light, Maya stares down a pair of cocky Navy SEALs (Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton) and tells them in no uncertain terms that she has no patience for their macho B.S. Only then does Bigelow offer auds what they paid to see: a re-construction of the raid on bin Laden's compound. Full Review To Index
11-25-12 Zero Dark Thirty: Jessica Carries the Film in a Way She's Never Been Asked to do Before (Hollywood Reporter) Kathryn Bigelow's and Mark Boal's heavily researched successor to The Hurt Locker will be tough for some viewers to take, not only for its early scenes of torture, including water boarding, but due to its denial of conventional emotionalism and non-gung ho approach to cathartic revenge-taking…absent is any personal life for the single-minded heroine…The film does question whether she gives up some of her humanity to so selflessly dedicate herself to this sole professional aim, but seems to answer that, for some, this is what represents the essence of life; everything else is preparation and waiting…we witness the deadly outrages of a 2004 attack in Saudi Arabia, the 2005 bus and tube bombing in London, the 2008 attack on the Karachi Marriott and, the following year, a shocking breach at a secured CIA base in Afghanistan. Connecting the dots, however, is the dogged presence of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young, flame-haired CIA officer who barely flinches when she first witnesses torture, is described as "a killer" by a colleague and, after a close call, allows that, "I believe I was spared so I could finish the job."…She becomes tolerably friendly with a gregarious, chatty female colleague (the ever-wonderful Jennifer Ehle) but most of the time is the only female in the room; she knows when to hold her tongue and her frustrations are legion, but she also finds her moments to assert herself and speak out to superiors when she suspects her contributions are being ignored, due either to her rank or because she's a woman…Instead of rushing the place, as per usual cinematic practice, they move slowly and cautiously, room by room, killing the messenger, among others, and encountering several women and many children as they go. The tall man remains elusive but there are still more doors to open. Still, with each minute, the danger of exposure and failure increases-locals from the neighborhood are beginning to head toward the house-and they still haven't found their prize. Until, finally, they do…It could well be the most impressive film Bigelow has made…Chastain carries the film in a way she's never been asked to do before. Denied the opportunity to provide psychological and emotional details for Maya, she nonetheless creates a character that proves indelible and deeply felt. The entire cast works in a realistic vein to fine effect. Full Review To Index
11-25-12 First Review of Zero Dark Thirty: The Girl Who Got bin Laden (Time) Surrounded by tattooed enforcers like Dan and upper-management toughies like George, Maya [Jessica] at first seems as pale and petite as a naked mole rat. When Dan is transferred back home and Maya assumes control of the interrogations, her boss warns her, "You don't want to be the last one holding the dog collar when the Oversight Committee comes." But Maya has developed copper callouses, and steely reserve, especially after some of her closest colleagues are blown to bits in the 2009 suicide bombing at the Camp Chapman base in Afghanistan, which killed seven CIA agents. Maya believes she was spared so she could finish the job. "I'm gonna smoke everybody involved in this op," she says of the Camp Chapman attack. "And then I'm gonna kill bin Laden." The making of Zero Dark Thirty…was an operation nearly as complex and secretive as the one that took down bin Laden. Some industry analysts, inferring that the movie was all about the May 1, 2011, Seal Team Six raid that killed the al-Qaeda leader, wondered why a woman had the leading role. (The raid consumes just the final fifth of the movie.)…Bigelow received no help from the U.S. government - no lending of aircraft or weaponry - in the depiction of the Abbottabad raid or of any other military activity…Further, this is in no way a political film; it carries neither a torch for Barack Obama (who is seen only for seconds, promising in a 2008 news clip to end waterboarding) nor the agitated imprint of an Oliver Stone film. Essentially, it's a police procedural on the grand scale…Though focusing on the determination and resilience of Maya (based on a real CIA tracker), the film is a giant fresco, an imposing series of surgical strikes set in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Poland and the U.S…Chastain takes a while to grow into Maya's skin, but her tentativeness in the early scenes may be an accurate depiction of a young woman just out of college, enduring the growing pains of a difficult matriculation in a killer job…At the end, the woman who found Osama also finds an end to her sacred obsession. And, eight years to the day after George W. Bush prematurely announced it, an American official has earned the right to proclaim, "Mission accomplished." So too, with this splendid sortie into cinematic reportage, can Kathryn Bigelow. Full Review To Index


11-17-12 Tar: Irreproachably Tasteful, Easily Digestible but Unsurprising and Undemanding (Indiewire) It's difficult to know quite what to make of 'Tar,' a multi-authored project seemingly coaxed into being by the sheer force of James Franco's current artistic cachet. Playing In Competition in the XXI sidebar of the Rome Film Festival, the film represents the work of twelve newbie directors -- NYU film students all -- and attempts to create an impressionistic interpretation of the work of poet CK Williams...the film shifts around in time and mood, using four different actors (Franco one of them) to depict Williams at different stages in his life, with the scenes sometimes playing out with internal dialogue and mini-storylines, and other times played mute, with snatches of poetry voiced over. It is to be commended that despite the far-ranging approach and the cadre of people involved in its making, the film doesn't feel disjointed or particularly uneven...The problem really lies in the last place you might look for it: the originality and resourcefulness of these young filmmakers...for example, when handed the often autobiographical work of a poet who grew up close to his mother in mid-20th century America, the choice was made to cast Jessica Chastain, and then to essentially recreate half of her "Tree of Life" scenes, right down to the lens flares and the twirling on the grass. It comes across not as homage, but rip off...It's still lovely to look at, often, but we've seen this cornfield, we've seen this closeup of Mila Kunis looking sexy and disheveled, we've seen this tender handholding moment between kids -- we've seen an awful lot of these images elsewhere. Its effect on Williams' poetry is therefore reductive, taking words that are free and wild and evocative on the page and pinning them to images that could sell perfume..."Tar' for all the experimentalism of its conception...ends up an irreproachably tasteful, easily digestible but an unsurprising, undemanding watch. Full Review To Index

The Heiress

02-08-13 The Heiress has Something for Everyone (NYU Local) For the first few moments of director Moises Kaufman's The Heiress, I worried that Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain hadn't made the transition from screen to stage. Her body language, speech, and mannerisms all spoke to a subtle awkwardness of a teenager. As her father, David Strathairn, reprimanded and abused her, it became clear that this stilted performance is a perfect representation of Chastain's character…The play has something for everyone; fans of Gone with the Wind will love the grandeur of the set and costumes that rival that of Scarlet's curtain dress, The Real Housewives aficionado will love Ivy's witty quips, Downton Abbey watchers will gasp along with the rest, and everyone will enjoy the exciting twist ending. Full Review To Index

11-04-12 Jessica's Heiress Delicately Creates Portrait of a Naïve Young Woman Shattered by Betrayal (Huffington Post) There is no shortage of silent rage onstage at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre in Jessica Chastain's subtle and nuanced portrayal of the jilted rich girl in a fine revival of The Heiress…Kaufman has restored the play to drawing room manners, where the bitterness and tension that pervade the Sloper household are covered with a veneer of gentility and politeness…Chastain's performance is low-key throughout, delicately creating a portrait of a naïve young woman shattered by betrayal. She makes the emotional transition from a giddy girl in love to an abandoned fiancée bent on retribution so seamless that the final outcome of Townsend's two-year, on-and-off courtship remains in doubt until the last scene, even for those who know how the story ends…The mood and tone of this revival of The Heiress is wonderfully enhanced by Derek McLane's well-appointed front parlor in the Slopers' Washington Square house, along with Albert Wolsky's mid-19th century costumes and David Landers' warm, gas-lit hues. It should also be noted that the transformation of Chastain, a movie star beauty, into a young woman James described as having a "dull, plain, and gentle countenance" must have been a makeup artist's challenge. Full Review To Index
11-01-12 Opening Night Review #9 (Associated Press) The latest revival of "The Heiress" has done the near impossible - it's drained the light from one of the most luminous actresses working today. In a good way. Jessica Chastain, that ravishing redhead with the milky skin who shot a dose of bubbly charm to the film "The Help," turns almost ghoulish in the title role at the Walter Kerr Theatre, which appropriately opened Thursday, the day after Halloween. Chastain had her work cut out for her playing the "plain" Henry James heroine Catherine Sloper - "an entirely mediocre and defenseless creature with not a shred of poise" - forced to choose between a potentially gold-digging suitor and her aloof father, but the actress has seemingly scrubbed all beauty from her face and voice. What's left is a skittish woman with hollow eyes, a simply horrible hostess who, when she speaks, does so in a dull monotone. Even her hair looks mousy. Full credit goes to Chastain, who has buried herself in dullness to play one of theater's more formidable proto-feminist roles…Chastain negotiates these two men with her heart on her sleeve. She delivers the famous line, "Someone must love me! I have never had anyone!" with powerful anguish. At the play's very end, the evolution into a stronger Catherine is complete, and she snarls to her father and aunt: "Yes, I can be cruel. I have been taught by masters!" Full Review To Index
11-01-12 Opening Night Review #8 (USA TODAY) In this revival, which opened Thursday at the Walter Kerr Theatre, it is clearly Chastain's intention to lend more depth to her character. The actress doesn't do this by emphasizing her physical charms; to the contrary, the swan-like beauty deftly channels her inner duckling, her flat voice and stiff, awkward gestures at first suggesting a dim light trying to fade into her surroundings. Catherine finds a spark, though, in Morris Townsend, a suspiciously avid suitor played by Dan Stevens...In the end, it's up to the leading lady to ensure that we care about Catherine, rather than seeing her as a distressed damsel in a quaint melodrama. And Chastain gives her a forbearance and dignity that blossoms even after her frail glow seems in danger of being extinguished. It's a nuanced, compassionate performance that bodes well for the actress' future, on stage and off. Full Review To Index
11-01-12 Opening Night Review #7 (Businessweek) As a plain Jane whose inheritance makes her catnip to a handsome fortune hunter, Jessica Chastain is close to perfect in her Broadway debut...Chastain may not be quite so good at suppressing an innate loveliness radiating through wig and makeup, but that only adds to the sense of shifting tectonic plates that build to Catherine's coming out as a full-fledged inductee into the chilly, joyless family that spawned her...A mostly inspired cast and design team have been assembled for a melodrama that doesn't fall completely within the comfort zone of this adventurous director...Catherine's transformation from prey to predator ("I have been taught by masters," she famously spits near the play's end) shocks and satisfies, which is all you can ask of a matinee play. That plus scrumptious costumes (Albert Wolsky), and fully committed performances. Full Review To Index
11-01-12 Opening Night Review #6 (Variety) If you can overlook the absurdity of casting the ravishing Jessica Chastain as the plain and clumsy heroine of "The Heiress," Ruth and Augustus Goetz's 1947 stage adaptation of "Washington Square," then Moises Kaufman's masterfully helmed production is everything you want from a Class A revival. As is proper for a costume drama, the costumes are mouthwatering. The set is just as scrumptious, and the cast seems entirely comfortable speaking the language and thinking the thoughts of people from a bygone era -- David Strathairn so much so, you'd swear he goes up the staircase to bed each night after the show...Chastain does her level best to find her own inner spinster, and she's quite touching in the heart-ripping scene when it slowly dawns on Catherine that her prince will never come. But not since Julia Roberts made a brief stage appearance playing a frump has anyone struggled so hard to keep a dazzling smile in lockdown. Full Review To Index
11-01-12 Opening Night Review #5 (Village Voice) A well made play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, adapted from Henry James' 1880 novel Washington Square, The Heiress is back in a sturdy if not revelatory production…Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain is a fine actress who seems incapable of a false move, giving a naturalistic performance, though I found some of her moments flat, needing a bit more awakened fire…The set by Derek McLane and costumes by Albert Wolsky are top notch, and though this Heiress doesn't pack the wallop it could, it has an integrity that Morris the suitor can't seem to fathom. Full Review To Index
11-01-12 Opening Night Review #4 (Wall Street Journal) This production, which is uneven but not unrewarding, will at least serve to introduce those who don't know "The Heiress" to its manifold excellences. It's remarkable that the Goetzes were able to transform so elegantly turned a book as "Washington Square" into a fully stageworthy play, and even more remarkable that they contrived to do so without compromising its essence. Not only did they incorporate much of James's dialogue into the script, but they also stuck close to his plot, adding only two neat and very effective touches of climactic melodrama. What disappeared along the way was the sardonic narrative voice in which James tells the tragic tale…it surprised me [how Strathairn] has chosen to play Dr. Sloper…Might his interpretation possibly be the doing of Moisés Kaufman, the director of this revival? Either way, it strikes me as a grave miscalculation, since part of the point of the play is that Catherine becomes her father at evening's end, treating Morris in the same heartless way that Dr. Sloper has treated her. Mr. Strathairn, by contrast, plays Dr. Sloper without any edge of threat, thus sabotaging the symmetry that the Goetzes took such care to build into "The Heiress."… Ms. Chastain's performance, certain affecting moments notwithstanding, is too often vocally flat and dramatically unsubtle in a way that you wouldn't expect from a classically trained actor with a fair amount of stage experience. She lacks the adamantine toughness without which the final scene of "The Heiress" cannot make its proper impact…anyone who knows Mr. Wyler's wonderful film version, or who was lucky enough to see "The Heiress" on Broadway in 1995, will know-and regret-what is missing from this revival. Full Review To Index
11-01-12 Opening Night Review #3 (New York Times) You will find plenty to nibble on in the handsome, starchy new revival of "The Heiress," which opened on Thursday night at the Walter Kerr Theater, with Ms. Chastain providing a bluntly drawn outline of the title character. Yes, it's Masterpiece Theater on Broadway…It is lovely to look at, easy to follow and - with the exception of a vivid supporting performance from Judith Ivey - about as full of real life as an Olde New York Christmas window in a department store. Not that the audience with which I saw the show seemed to feel deprived. There were five separate outbreaks of applause during the first 10 minutes… Wearing a mousy brown wig and hunching her shoulders, Ms. Chastain improbably manages to simulate homeliness. And her face registers feelings sharply and legibly. But, curiously for an expert film actress, she is guilty here of oversignaling the thoughts within. She plays Catherine's spinsterish awkwardness for broad comedy in the early scenes. And her delivery of dialogue sometimes has a flatness that I associate with cold readings of scripts. Full Review To Index
11-01-12 Opening Night Review #2 (Hollywood Reporter) The gasps of pleasure that accompanied the stage entrance of Dan Stevens in The Heiress on press night indicated a large contingent of Downton Abbey fans in the audience. And the actor is a savvy casting choice in a part that requires beguiling charm and sufficient sincerity to keep us wondering about his character's motives. But the good news doesn't extend to the actress in the title role of this plush Broadway revival. An underpowered Jessica Chastain, hampered by questionable directorial choices, dilutes the emotional impact of this nonetheless compelling melodrama…Making her Broadway debut, Chastain is not a natural fit for Catherine, the socially awkward, plain-Jane daughter of wealthy widowed medic Dr. Austin Sloper…But playing against type is less a problem in Chastain's frustrating performance here than inconsistency of characterization…Much of this appears to some degree intentional on the part of director Moisés Kaufman. He presents Catherine as a damaged woman, crushed into permanent withdrawal by her father's disregard for her…This is juicy, high-toned melodrama, and for the most part, stylishly executed. It's possible that, as the run progresses, Chastain might find more secure footing, placing a bolder stamp on the central role to capture the spark that's currently missing. Full Review To Index
11-01-12 Opening Night Review #1 (amNY) Catherine Sloper (Jessica Chastain), the dull and unattractive daughter of Dr. Austin Sloper (David Strathairn), is courted by the penniless suitor Morris Townsend (Dan Stevens), which leads Dr. Sloper to believe that Townsend is only interested in his daughter's money. Catherine eventually learns the truth of Morris' motivation and her father's contempt for her, which causes her to grow hard as nails. In the famous final scene, Catherine orders the town house door be bolted shut while Morris, who expected Catherine to come out and marry him, knocks frantically from the outside. To suit her role, Chastain, who received an Oscar nomination for "The Help," is made to look awkward. But what really distinguishes her performance, which marks her Broadway debut, is how she convincingly evolves from an insecure, loving young girl into a steely, bitter woman. Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley on the English television series "Downton Abbey," also makes a fine New York stage debut, hiding his character's unsavory motives behind a sunny, guileless facade. Strathairn maintains a dour disposition to the role of the doctor, while Judith Ivey brings a sweet and lively presence as Catherine's warm aunt Lavinia. Full Review To Index
10-31-12 Kaufman's The Heiress a Let Down (Newsday) Perhaps, had we not lost ourselves 17 years ago in Gerald Gutierrez's rapturously unsentimental staging of the play inspired by Henry James' late-19th century "Washington Square" (and made into William Wyler's Oscar vehicle for Olivia de Havilland in 1949), well, perhaps we wouldn't be so let down by the phony theatricality and comic mugging in director Moisés Kaufman's gorgeously decorated, emotionally simplistic production. It is possible that I'm being too hard on this much-anticipated, lavishly creaky revival…But Chastain, the fine movie actress in her Broadway debut, only comes to life in the second half, after the handsome but penniless gentleman caller claims to want to marry her. Before that, Chastain just seems like a beautiful actress pretending to be plain and graceless, one who can't wait to get on her blush and blossom into the powerful woman Catherine becomes. Surely, it was not Chastain's idea to make the shy Catherine so cartoon-maladroit…In general, Kaufman seems not to trust the real breaking heart of the drama…Except for Strathairn's conflicted and complex father, the characters are so transparent in their motivations that we're not allowed to wonder who really wants what and why. Full Review To Index
10-11-12 Second BroadwayWorld Heiress Review ( [Jessica] is truly excellent in this role that is certainly built for a star vehicle. She has no less than 5 changes in the first act and almost as many in the second. And what gorgeous costumes they are. Superficially one of the best looking productions overall I have ever seen…For me the one weak link was David Strathairn. I felt like alot of his lines were read a bit flat. But, perhps (sic) this will improve with a few more performances. Judith Ivey was having fun with the part, and getting lots of laughs. I do agree aboubt (sic) Dan Stevens. He came on and I just wanted to like him. I feel like we needed a more slimy guy than him…But overall this is Jessica's role. She takes us on a journey and it really is chilling when we get to the final scene. Finally a Broadway show and Actoress (sic) living up to the hype…Also, as for stage dooring, I waited tonight, and Dan Stevens and Jessica Chastain both signed and couldn't be nicer. They both came out after a relatively short amount of time. Full Review To Index
10-07-12 First BroadwayWorld Heiress Review ( I was there and really enjoyed it…The set is beautiful. There's wall to wall carpeting, two large pillars, and 15 foot windows with lavish red curtains. It makes a strong impression when the curtain rises. The costumes are amazing too. I'll warn upfront that I'm a crazy Chastain fan. I was worried though- what if all her brilliant film performances don't translate to the stage? Could she deliver live? The answer is a resounding yes. She is the real deal…Act One: awkward, shy, clumsy, naive, trusting, loving. It's all the more juicy knowing that she's going to get to really have some fun in Act Two. The first scene in Act Two when her father really lays into her was terrifying. I couldn't even pay attention to David Strathairn. I could only watch Chastain's face as she reacted to his cruel words. A click went off and her character wasn't going to be the same again. The following scene at night when everything came crashing down finally sent her over the edge enough to deliver the final vindictive acts. Full Review To Index

Lawless (The Wettest County in the World)

08-31-12 Lawless has Oscar Implications (ElkGrovePatch) The summer is wrapping up and we already have a film that has Oscar implications. Tom Hardy plays legendary bootlegger Forrest Bondurant and Guy Pierce is hot on his trail in a film full of violence, and great acting in "Lawless."…Jessica Chastain plays a former dancer and Hardy's love interest who then becomes his partner-in-crime in this film about moonshine bootlegging and its life-changing consequences...The romantic element between Hardy and Chastain adds an extra quality to make the entire cinematic experience memorable…It may not get the Oscar notoriety in the best movie category but individual performances from Hardy, Pierce, and Chastain should get some recognition from the academy come awards time. So the flick-o-meter gives "Lawless" a four out of five…it's not a perfect film but it certainly is worth watching (I'm sure the academy will also take note). Full Review To Index

08-29-12 Ebert Admires Lawless' Craftsmanship and Acting; Regrets Failure to Rise above Them (suntimes) "Lawless" is a well-made film about ignorant and violent people…I can only admire this film's craftsmanship and acting, and regret its failure to rise above them…The three brothers run a combination shop, restaurant and gas station in the backwoods…Drawn to this remote place is a mysterious woman named Maggie (Jessica Chastain) from Chicago, who was a dancer but wanted to move to a more peaceful place. She becomes a waitress, bookkeeper, business manager and Forrest's girlfriend…After assorted deaths, a war seems inevitable. What may strike you as surprising is the film's climactic battle. On a road near town, the two sides essentially line up their cars opposite each other and start shooting. They have that strange illusion of invulnerability born of hate and guns in their hands, and blast away in full view until those required to die do so, and the others survive. Full Review To Index
08-28-12 Another Strong Performance from Jessica in Lawless (San Francisco Chronicle) About a third into the film, Jessica Chastain shows up as a city woman relocating to the country in order to find some peace (lotsa luck). Her clothes, her hair, her lipstick and her air of independence make her into a vision of desirability and color amid the dullness, dust and dirt. It's another strong performance from Chastain, who in the last 18 months has had the best rollout of an actress since Meryl Streep. Full Review To Index
08-24-12 Richard Roeper: Lawless has Oscar Potential ( Do we have an Oscar contender here?...Tom Hardy…owns the screen…The luminous Jessica Chastain plays a former dancer who escapes Chicago looking for a quieter life; boy did she pick the wrong town and the wrong guy! Chastain is just lovely and note perfect in every scene…Lawless has never a dull moment. It has a genuinely sweet romance between the grunting Hardy the sultry Chastain…Hardy, Chastain, and Pearce all deliver [Oscar] nomination-worthy performances…I give it an A! Full Review To Index
08-22-12 Lawless Portrays the King of All Villains (Newsday) The differential in movie villainy -- between the bad guy we merely root against, and the bad guy whose demise incites spontaneous applause in a movie theater -- is exemplified by Charley Rakes, the nasty piece of work at the center of director John Hillcoat's "Lawless." Opening Wednesday, what Hillcoat called his "country gangster" drama based in the Prohibition-era South features a super-cast of young stars, including Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Shia LaBeouf and Mia Waskikowska. But it's the veteran Guy Pearce ("Memento," "L.A. Confidential" and Hillcoat's "The Proposition"), who, as Rakes, galvanizes the entire movie and worms his way into the spleen of the audience...Rakes the lawman is special, however: In "Lawless," he comes to the Virginia backwoods prepared to destroy the lucrative moonshine business of the Bondurant brothers (Hardy, LaBeouf and Jason Clarke) and, if necessary, the Bondurant brothers themselves...Rakes kills the movie's sweetest character in cold blood, over an insult, and clearly has sexual issues that manifest themselves in unsavory ways. He's also an insufferable snob, a preening fop and a font of vindictive cruelty...he provokes no sympathy at all. Even Shakespeare's Iago provokes a certain amount of pity. For that matter, Satan himself is a figure of pathos in "Paradise Lost." Charley Rakes? Not so much. Full Review To Index
08-22-12 Lawless Begins with a Pig, Delves into Prohibition, and Ends with Morning in America (New York Observer) Lawless begins with the shooting death of a pig, a scene that perfectly encapsulates the film's tone: cruel and strange. The shooting is free of context aside from one child spurring another on to pull the trigger while the pig writhes in its pen, sensing danger in the air. The film never returns to the children, showing them instead as men...The kids grow up to be the Bondurant brothers, played by Jason Clarke, Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf...As a tale of criminals facing down law enforcement, Lawless resembles Prohibition movies like The Untouchables far less than it does something like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Like the ambiguous and haunting Assassination, Lawless spins an archetypal story of American history in new directions, both morally and aesthetically. Morally, the film takes a strong stand on the side of the bootleggers, entrepreneurial types trying to make their way in an environment where law enforcement is a greater threat than even one's rival moonshiner...Aesthetically, the film is beautiful, and not merely for the conventional shots of Appalachia that appear at the beginning...Lawless's locals represent an optimistic story about the best of America in the face of grinding opposition and violent conflagration; whether that story is true or false is up for debate, but if the movie's denouement has a wish-fulfillment quality, the tacked-on coda rots out the teeth with sweetness. A film that delved into Prohibition ends with Morning in America. The pig has been forgotten, though certain characters are penned up very comfortably. It's of little matter. For all the corruption of Jack's innocence throughout the film, the restoration of said innocence seems a fitting enough conclusion. Whether or not one believes the story to be credible, its implicit, perhaps unintended moral-that certain lessons need to be learned over and over, even when it seems you've escaped the cruelty of your past-is certainly one that bears telling. Full Review To Index
08-22-12 Jessica in Lawless is Ultimate Merger of Moral Ambiguity and Aesthetic Vision (New York Observer) The film's ultimate merger of moral ambiguity and aesthetic vision comes in the form of Jessica Chastain, the prolific actress whose stunning looks have rarely been used to such good effect as here. Ms. Chastain-fair-skinned, red-headed, with the body of a studio-system starlet-plays a woman of dubious morality. She, too, has come to the country from the city, and she brings trouble, the bad reputation she's been trying to escape catching up with her. She's utterly compelling as a woman caught between a desired future that seems at best unlikely-one spent with Forrest, who is reduced to silence upon first seeing her-and a past that just keeps coming back. The county can neither tolerate Chicago law enforcement nor Chicago loose women-it's a closed system. Ms. Chastain's character, Maggie, who pulls a knife on an assailant and quietly manipulates an unemotional Forrest into loving her, would be the femme fatale of a film noir, the dangerous woman with a heart of gold. Full Review To Index
08-17-12 Lawless has an Undeniable, Visceral Energy (Worcester Telegram) "Lawless" based on the true story of three Virginia brothers during Prohibition. They cheerfully go about making their staggeringly potent moonshine until a crooked Chicago deputy comes a callin', wanting to shut them down or get a piece of the action, or is lifted from the commonplace by a gritty, sometimes very funny Nick Cave screenplay, and intense performances by Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke...Also on Guy Pearce as the sadistic, vain, utterly evil corrupt official. He's so bad the screening audience actually hissed his every appearance. Of the brothers, hunky Tom Hardy is the real standout. This guy can do more with an inarticulate grunt than most actors can manage with 12 pages of dialogue. (Young Mr. LaBeouf continues an impressive, burgeoning career, and is allowed a great variety of emotion here.) Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska are the somewhat peripheral women. But both are appealing and a welcome respite from the unrelenting testosterone...This movie is not for the fainthearted. It is incredibly violent. Everything from throat slittings, to castrations, to tar and feathering...Also be prepared for actors who have steeped themselves so completely in their roles as backwoods Virginia poor-folk that their accents, though expert, are sometimes hard to decipher. "Lawless" has an undeniable, visceral energy. Lots of people are going to love it. Full Review To Index
05-20-12 Lawless is an Audience Pleaser with Award Possibilities (Twitch) This is a solid crime drama that is sure to find a receptive multiplex audience...The story spend much of its time focusing on Jack's rise to prominence. He uses his new found wealth to court the preacher's daughter (Wasikowska), but the love story is mostly left in the background. The same is true with Forrest's affair with Maggie (Chastain) who just shows up on his doorstep one day. Neither of the females are given much character, but both have good moments and the two actresses shine as bright lights in these men's dark lives...The film may not bring anything new to the genre, but it certainly delivers a fun time at the movies. Time will tell if this is enough, but it isn't hard to imagine Lawless being in the awards discussion come next winter, especially given Hardy's talent (and Harvey's for that matter). Regardless, it's refreshing to find crowd pleasing butts-in-seat fun done so well. Full Review To Index
05-20-12 Fans Cheer Before and During Lawless Film (Hollywood Reporter) After receiving a nearly 10-minute-standing-ovation in the Palais theatre (and as any veteran fest-goer can attest, that's a long one), the cast and production team were on cloud nine. In fact, the audience didn't even wait until the end. During three of the film's final key turns, the crowd erupted into three separate rounds of applause...Jessica Chastain also arrived early to the party and snacked on the light passed appetizers being served and danced with friends to the music from a local French DJ. Full Review To Index
05-20-12 Lawless Unlikely to Win Palme d'Or but will Impress Fan-boy Audience (The Independent) Lawless is not likely to scoop a Palme - as hillbilly mobster movies go, it's hardly Bonnie and Clyde, which Hillcoat has confessed is a primary model. But, while critics here haven't been enamoured, Lawless stands to impress the fan-boy audience on the strength of its whole-hearted violence, which includes throat-slitting, castration and hot tar on a man's back - along with plentiful firing of Capone-vintage machine guns. Full Review To Index
05-19-12 Lawless Thrives on Performance of its Incredible Cast (stumbleupon) In Lawless, John Hillcoat has almost crafted the perfect modern Western, infusing more explicitly the gangster genre elements that always occur in the genre, but never quite so explicitly...the violent moments are graphic and profoundly affecting, punctuating what is otherwise a slow-burning tale of intrigue that thrives on the performances of its incredible cast and the dynamics and relationships they create for their characters...Jessica Chastain meanwhile continues to make acting look incredibly easy as one of only two female characters, adding heart and balance to the more barbaric sequences and giving Tom Hardy's Forrest an additional facet that grows wonderfully thanks to Hardy's own subtle, powerful performance...Guy Pearce's performance is the stand-out of a very strong collective...Gary Oldman doesn't get nearly enough screentime, though he is extremely effective in the limited time he does have. Full Review To Index
05-19-12 Jessica's Character Maggie in Lawless (TIME) Forrest...never striking a man except in retaliation, and quietly revering Maggie, a burlesque dancer from Chicago who becomes the Bondurants' business manager...Not until Forrest learns that Rakes' men abused Maggie does he decide this lawman needs killing...Chastain adds to her large resume from 2011 (seven films, and she can also be heard here in Madagascar 3) with a performance of poised, seductive gravity. Full Review To Index
05-19-12 Lawless Too Studied to be Consistently Gripping (TIME) The movie, which opens August 31 in the U.S., never comes close to creating its own myth - though it's plenty fancy. Bursting with well observed violence and boasting fine turns from its best performers, Lawless is too studied to be consistently vivid or gripping. Not directed so much as art directed, this unquestionably handsome film (shot by the French cinematographer Benoit Delhomme) has a habit of placing actors of craggy demeanor in careful groups, as if posing them for a Walker Evans photograph. The scowls look genuine, but the movie is only a simulacrum of Bondurant's book. Full Review To Index
05-19-12 An Unenthusiastic Review of Lawless (Irish Times) The rest of the film will do well enough in an HBO sort of way. Hardy makes something hulky and inhuman of the older brother. The costumes and design, though never dirty enough, show evidence of diligent research. The soundtrack makes convincing and witty - note references to another prohibited drug - use of bluegrass takes on The Velvet Underground's White Light White Heat. If Cave had managed to impose some structure on this allegedly true story then we might have had a film that could sit comfortably beside The Proposition. Nobody should complain about the texture: the screenwriter uses his favoured biblical syntax to winning effect; he finds humour in Forrest's apparent indestructibility. But, with a villain too absurd to take seriously, Lawless never sets up sufficient levels of jeopardy. It passes the time. But a whole bunch of opportunities appear to have been squandered. Full Review To Index
05-19-12 The Characters in Lawless (Hollywood Reporter) John Hillcoat is back on more fertile turf with Lawless, a muscular slice of grisly Americana rooted in flavorful Prohibition-era outlaw legend...The nominal lead figure in the dark ensemble drama is Jack Bondurant, probably the most standard role but one that yields more accomplished work than pretty much anything Shia LaBoeuf has done to date. However, it's the characters around Jack that supply much of the texture, notably his brothers, the taciturn, philosophizing Forrest (Tom Hardy) and hooch-swilling punisher Howard (Jason Clarke). No less vital contributions come from Guy Pearce as a corrupt, dandified lawman, who has no qualms about spilling blood so long as it doesn't splash his bespoke suits, and Gary Oldman in a brief but lip-smacking turn as Chicago bobster Floyd Banner...Jessica Chastain as Maggie, an emotionally bruised burlesque dancer looking for a quiet life away from the mean city and stumbling instead on a whole other kettle of brutality in the backwoods...Maggie works the bar at the boys' Blackwater Station, as she and Forrest shoot each other smoldering glances. Full Review To Index
05-19-12 Actresses in Lawless Under-used (TheWrap) Two women touch the lives of the Bondurant boys. Chastain plays a runaway stripper trying to remake her life -- she doesn't get a lot to do but makes the most of her screen time. Wasikowska plays a preacher's daughter pursued by LaBeouf. Her face, lovely without a stitch of makeup, has the look and feel of the time, but she doesn't have much to do either except bat her eyelashes at LaBeouf. Both of these actresses deserve better -- the writing fails them, stuffing them into easy archetypes. Full Review To Index
05-19-12 Only Jessica is Immune to Pearce's Persona in Lawless (Vulture) When he'd rather not resort to violence, he still stares sexually unsettling daggers into the movie's entire cast, man or woman, and when he presses a gun into Shia LaBeouf, you half expect him to spit on it and stroke it. Only Chastain's hard-living glamourpuss is immune to his vaguely rapey designs, though he still invades her space one night, then dismisses her by saying he'd rather not "drink from a greasy cup." Full Review To Index
05-19-12 The Three Brothers Bondurant in Lawless (WhatCulture!) "Lawless" just debuted in the Lumiere theatre at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival to the biggest reception of any movie that has played so far. Simply put - it was awesome fun, a movie Sam Peckinpah would have been proud of making in his prime and although this isn't a prestigious effort by any means, it is tremendous entertainment...They call Forrest indestructible, an immortal who cannot be killed and although a man of few words, he is a man who knows not how to surrender or how to throw in the towel. He is "a man of principle" as he says and his commitment to the family is why they have gone down in legend. Hardy gives the best performance of the brothers, knowing his physical frame and eyes can deliver much of the resonance he so easily captures. Clarke is a perpetually drunk and washed up looking brother Howard who carries a feverish zest for a fight and who stays loyal through the fight. Clarke arrives on his natural ability to play shady criminals from "Public Enemies" and other background character portrayals that add so much to the epic nature of a picture. He often does so much with so little screen time and here is no exception, playing a character here who would rather throw a punch than engage in conversation. Our lead character though is Jack (Shia LaBeouf) who probably ends up with the most screen time and is our entry point into the family as the younger brother who hasn't yet grown to the build of his siblings (and at his size at this age, looks like he never will). Jack wants in on the action and his eagerness and naivety to be part of the dangerous operation too often brings with it trouble...I hope The Weinsteins are able to market the entertaining nature of the film to grab the audience it deserves. Full Review To Index
05-19-12 Jessica is a Dancer Running from the Big City in Lawless (RopeofSilicon) Hardy remains consistent in once again delivering a character you simply can't get enough of. Out of all the reasons you may cheer for the Bondurants, one is to likely see Forrest safe through to the end if only to hear him grunt an affirmative one more time. Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke are also impressive as Forrest's brothers. The story essentially follows LaBeouf as Jack and his desire for the finer things and his admiration for the big city gangsters such as Floyd Banner, played by Gary Oldman in only brief moments, but a quick wink to the camera is confirmation Oldman was the man for the job. The leading ladies of the picture are played by Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska. Chastain's Maggie is running from the big city life where she was a dancer and winds up on the Bondurants' doorstep looking for the quieter life. While she clearly went looking in the wrong place, she did find some much needed protection. Wasikowska's Bertha Minnix is a preacher's daughter that has caught Jack's eye and while her father won't hear of them being together that doesn't stop the pursuit. Full Review To Index
05-19-12 Lawless not Strongest Film at Cannes but Perhaps Most Commercial (HitFix) "Lawless," made its debut at Cannes first thing Saturday morning, and the most striking thing about it at first glance is that Hillcoat seems to have learned some new shades as a filmmaker, and for the first time in his career, it feels like he's actually having some fun...Hillcoat wisely doesn't treat the material as if it is some brand-new thing, instead just taking tactile pleasure in the details of the period and in the truly lovely performances he gets out of almost everyone...Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain are both lovely as "the women," but there's not much for them to do beyond that. Sadly, the same is true of Gary Oldman, who shows up as a well-known Chicago gangster..."Lawless" probably isn't going to send anyone to any awards shows this year, but it is a nice indication that Hillcoat can play more than the one note that he's hammered so hard so far in his work. I enjoyed it, and while I don't think it's the strongest film I've seen here so far, it may well be the most commercial. Full Review To Index
05-19-12 First Cannes Review of Lawless (Extensive Plot and Analysis) (Indie Wire) Though it never elevates into anything more than great entertainment, if that's all we get out of "Lawless" it's hard to complain. This is the kind of material studios used to like making, bringing together an interesting story and an excellent collection of talent to tell the tale. We doubt "Lawless" will be gunning for any Oscars, but as far as top tier storytelling goes, it doesn't get much better than this. Full Review To Index
10-18-11 Excellent Performances in Wettest County and Jessica in the Buff (Latino Review) This is probably the best work I've seen from LaBeouf since Disturbia, but he's no match for the likes of Tom Hardy as well as Gary Oldman. Hardy's been stealing just about every movie he's been in nowadays and he almost does with this one. The real surprise is actually Guy Pearce, star of Hillcoat's The Proposition as a no nonsense deputy out to enforce the law. He puts Michael Shannon in Boardwalk Empire to shame. There's so many good things about this movie that I don't want to spoil it for your readers, but I will say it features an excellent and brutal killing montage cut to Velvet Underground's "White Light, White Heat" that's just amazing. The film also features Mia Wasikowski and Jessica Chastain who we actually get to see in the buff. The audience I saw the film with left the theater just as amazed as I and this film will be a critical darling when it hits later this year. Full Review To Index
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Madagascar 3

05-19-12 Reviewer Not Impressed with Madagascar 3 (Movies With Butter) It's really not a festival type of film. In my screening, it was the least filled theater so far...I wasn't impressed. I liked the first "Madagascar" because of the interesting character design, cute characters, colorful backgrounds and ultra cartoony animation. I skipped the second one. I couldn't quite get into "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted." Having the gang back just to be in an updated circus with acts enhanced by computer animation isn't much of a draw to me. I didn't think much of it was funny, only laughing a couple times. There was one good line in the film, but that was about it...Part three will probably see a more significant drop in box office. Full Review To Index
05-18-12 Madagascar 3 Recreates Famous Movie Scenes (Windsor Star) In Madagascar 3, the central characters of Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman leave Africa in search of their penguin friends who have flown to Europe to spend their gold and gems in the casino in Monte Carlo...Famous scenes from well-known action movies are also recreated, including the bus balancing on the edge of a cliff in "The Italian Job" and people dodging flying bullets, or in this case bananas, in "The Matrix"...New to the cast in the "threequel" are Bryan Cranston as Vitaly, Martin Short as the scene-stealing Italian sea lion Stefano and Jessica Chastain as a sultry jaguar. Full Review To Index
05-18-12 Madagascar 3 Good-humored and Endearing (Chicago Tribune) "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" severs the DreamWorks toon franchise's ties to reality entirely and emerges none the worse for it. Good-humored and endearing, full of energy and color (sometimes neon) if not quite Pixar-level invention, the series' shortest and most ambitious entry sends its homesick menagerie in the direction of New York, with scenic and amusing stops in Monte Carlo, London and Rome along the way..."Madagascar 3" places a higher value on speed and spectacle than either of its predecessors, piling on the narrative lunacy to outlandish, even surreal ends. Full Review To Index
05-18-12 First Cannes Review of Madagascar 3 (Hollywood Reporter) Not only extra-dimensional but extra-loud, extra-antic and extra-frenetic, this latest addition to what is already a billion-dollar franchise won't see its diminished charm and humor too drastically impact its built-in money-making capabilities. The Paramount release from DreamWorks Animation received a Friday noontime world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival...The other fresh character with an entirely different sort of appeal is Gia, a slinky Italian jaguar who enters the picture as part of a traveling circus the American gang joins as a cover for their journey through Europe. Gia, purringly voiced by Jessica Chastain, is a natural, and inherently provocative, romantic foil for the bashful Alex, and is rendered very appealingly in the gentle coloration of her coat and her physical manner...Madagascar 3 is colorful, moves like the TGV rather than the slow zoo train on view and is over in a flash. But it's dominated by the characters shouting over one another, repetitively reacting with alarm to anything that happens and overcompensating for largely unfunny material by overacting by about 300 percent. Yes, it's a cartoon, but it's conspicuously unmodulated, with the volume set on high and the pacing all but pushed to fast-forward. Full Review To Index
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02-01-12 Ebert: Modern-dress Productions of Shakespeare's Plays Can Inspire Intriguing Viewpoints (Sun Times) The point with Shakespeare is the language. Modern-dress productions of his plays are common and can inspire intriguing viewpoints…the screenplay by John Logan ("Hugo," "Gladiator") makes room for as much of Shakespeare's language as possible. I would have enjoyed more, because such actors as Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox let the words roll trippingly off the tongue…I admired the movie even though I found it neither fish nor fowl. As Shakespeare, it has too much action footage (Coriolanus' face seems permanently streaked with blood), and as action, it has too much Shakespeare. I suppose the action is the price Fiennes had to pay to do the Shakespeare, because a film this expensive must appeal to the masses. Full Review To Index
12-01-11 Jessica is Pure Sunshine in Coriolanus (Los Angeles Times) Chastain, who has had such a remarkable year already, one that has included a comical blond in "The Help" and mothers variously tested in "Take Shelter" and "The Tree of Life," is pure sunshine here as Martius' devoted wife Virgilia. The actress invests the language with such a lyrical lightness, it's as if she grew up quoting Shakespeare over breakfast. Meanwhile, Butler is a nice surprise, handling the nuances of his rebel fighter as well as the knife he favors for fighting. It ranks as one of his most affecting performances to date. But "Coriolanus" belongs to Cox. The veteran character actor ("Troy," "Braveheart," Bournes "Identity" and "Supremacy," and so on) steals the show as the wily politician Menenius. It is delicious to watch him coaxing and cajoling with the slick finesse of a D.C. lobbyist. Saying volumes with the arch of a brow and the tilt of his head, using a mirthless laugh for punctuation, Cox is the grease that keeps the wheels of this complicated narrative moving along. Full Review To Index
12-01-11 Coriolanus Gets it Right (Reuters UK) "Coriolanus," the directorial debut of actor Ralph Fiennes, gets it right. Featuring battle sequences with the same immediacy as the last decade's worth of Iraq/Afghanistan movies, and scenes where it feels perfectly natural for iambic pentameter to be coming out of the mouths of cable-news pundits, this "Coriolanus" fits perfectly into the modern world and raises questions that are as tough for contemporary viewers as they were for the groundlings at the Globe...But even with the fine acting by Fiennes, Butler, Jessica Chastain (if you're keeping score, this is her sixth movie of 2011) and Brian Cox, "Coriolanus" belongs to Redgrave, who's not so much an actress here as a force of nature. Full Review To Index
12-01-11 Coriolanus Action Sequences are Clean and Clear (Movieline) The cutting in Fiennes's action sequences is clean and clear, not choppy. And Coriolanus's tussles with his sometime-rival, sometime-cohort Tullus Aufidius (played by an amazingly not-horrible, if not exactly good, Gerard Butler) are worked out with the right mix of outright male aggression and twisted mutual admiration. It's only when the two find themselves in the clinch, their musclebound arms wrapped firmly around each other's necks, that they realize they're just two sides of the same coin...But the sleekest weapon in Fiennes's arsenal is Vanessa Redgrave, who plays Coriolanus's tough-love mom, Volumnia. If Coriolanus is cool as steel, we can see where he gets it: Volumnia is his female counterpart, his true partner in his life's work, as the story's incestuous undertones suggest. (The young actress Jessica Chastain plays Coriolanus's retreating, suffering wife, Virgilia.) Redgrave's Volumnia has the carriage of a warrior queen, her voice the smoothness and the bite of honey still in the comb - she makes even the play's densest language seem as if it were written yesterday. Full Review To Index
11-30-11 Coriolanus a Tough, Compelling Drama (Huffington Post) Never a popular part of the Shakespeare canon, Coriolanus (opening in limited released Friday, 12/2/11) bears a peculiar timeliness, in the muscular directorial debut by Ralph Fiennes...But Fiennes isn't playing favorites. What might be identified politically as left or right doesn't matter to Caius Martius, the central character played by Fiennes, who will be given the honorific "Coriolanus" after his military victory over Rome's enemies, the Volscians, in the city of Corioles...everything is different when you've saved the city from invasion. Suddenly Martius is being hailed -- not just as a hero but as a possible candidate for consul, the country's top office. Indeed, he is initially voted into the office -- until his enemies start making mischief... Every politician knows you have to kiss up to the electorate -- but Martius is a military man, not a political one. He balks at the idea of kowtowing to anyone, especially the rabble who, only weeks earlier, he had been manhandling with his riot-gear-equipped soldiers. He mocks the idea of populist rule -- and the populace rebels. Just that fast, he's not only turned out of office but banished from the country...Jessica Chastain, as Martius' wife, can only stand by, looking helpless and pained. Indeed, it's hard to imagine this marriage, given the rough, resolute version of Martius that Fiennes presents. This is a man with little give, a man whose own standards and rules of behavior ultimately distance him from everyone and prove his undoing...Coriolanus is tough, compelling drama, a comprehensible Shakespeare adaptation that glories in the Bard's language and ideas, even as it captures one of his most intriguingly troubled heroes. Full Review To Index
11-29-11 Coriolanus Reverberates in Today's Strife-filled Times (SignOnSanDiego) Of the many politicians we've seen undone by scandal and mismanaged crises, we've not yet seen one dare try to fight a media storm by calling the common people "measles." Leaders with deaf ears and publics that sway capriciously are eternal themes that certainly reverberate in today's strife-filled times. It's no wonder Ralph Fiennes saw fit to transport Shakespeare's tragedy (not one of his highest regarded) from its fifth century BC setting to a contemporary world...The gritty first half of the film is largely shot handheld, which, while surely a fitting style for a film about war and political tumult, grows tiresome and overused. There's a feeling of rushing and of some clunky contemporizing. Fiennes plays Coriolanus with all-consuming rage, which overshadows the character's other qualities. While he does seem, like Hamlet, displaced from his natural role, Coriolanus' humility doesn't quite come through. The pace of the camera and the storytelling improves considerably in the second half, or the play's fourth and fifth acts. The whole production finds its balance and Fiennes' performance grows fuller, finally bursting forth in a late rush of sympathy at the end. [Also includes excellent description of setting and plot]. Full Review To Index
11-27-11 Jessica is Riveting as Ever in Coriolanus (New York Magazine) Fiennes and Logan haven't made a definitive Coriolanus, but they've made a sensationally gripping one. They have the pulse of the play, its firm martial beats and its messy political clatter. They tell a good story...Fiennes shoots these sequences with handheld cameras and gets in the warriors' faces, chief among them his own, a scowling mask with a map of ugly scars. Those scars have dramatic much more at home Coriolanus is in the presence of his bitterest Volscian enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), than with anyone else, including his stunner of a wife (Jessica Chastain, riveting as ever). As her son's most vigorous political promoter, Volumnia is also his most effective saboteur-not to mention the scariest political matriarch this side of Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate...But there isn't a performance misjudged or a line misspoken. True, it's bizarre to hear Shakespeare's language in the mouths of TV newsreaders and commentators on the Roman-Volscian conflict. Full Review To Index
10-21-11 Coriolanus is an Impressively Staged Production but a Bit Long (OntheBox) It's an impressively staged production. It's supposedly set in Rome but looks more like the blasted wasteland of Full Metal Jacket - strewn debris and gutted buildings. The modern setting coupled to Shakespearian dialogue is initially a bit jarring but soon settles into an even pace: the crowd capture protests with smart phones; grenade launchers reduce towns to smoking rubble; rolling news channels constantly report the latest updates...but It's a shame that Jessica Chastain, a superb actress, is wasted, as she's given very few lines as Corialanus' wife Virgilia...Unfortunately, there are a few blips along the way. There's a reason that Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's lesser known plays and that's because it's actually quite dull. It lacks the dramatic punch that it needs to sustain its weighty running time of 127 minutes and by the second half, you'll be glancing regularly at your watch. Full Review To Index
10-19-11 Coriolanus is Perfect Blend of Stage and Screen (Front Row Reviews) Fiennes has moulded Coriolanus into the perfect blend of stage and screen taking us deep into the eye of a tyrant. It is a grand and staggering achievement that transposes the timeless words of the Bard to a world that is technologically and visually contemporary but audibly and thematically archaic...Coriolanus succeeds because it is very much about character, about relationships, and about their strengths and their weaknesses. It eschews direct focus on context and period - fleeting television reports and scrolling news banners provide much of the exposition - choosing to cast key players as the prevailing forces, and this is in keeping with Shakespeare's writing itself as he too used outside contextual forces only as a vehicle for further highlighting the virtues or flaws of his players. Here Fiennes does this in equal measure by infusing his film with high drama born from the clashes of characters, not of armies or political powers. Key supporting roles are played superlatively by Venessa Redgrave as Coriolanus' overbearing but caring matriarch, Brian Cox as the visibly calculating silver tongued politician Menenius and the porcelain Jessica Chastain as the wholly conflicted wife of the scorched hero...this is heart-gripping, adrenalin pumping filmmaking where we are bombarded by words not actions, and all's the better for it. The language on display here may necessitate concentration and an openness to its linguistic complexity but that effort bears rich fruits. Full Review To Index
10-17-11 Coriolanus Does Well in Modern Context (Impact Magazine) It's clearly Fiennes' film, he is absolutely brilliant as the headstrong and volatile Martius Coriolanus, warrior and defender of Rome but no friend of the city's people. His direction is also fairly good, but it suffers from a few setbacks...Casting the bearded Butler in a Shakespeare adaptation always seemed like a strange move and unfortunately there is no miraculous turnup - he spits out his lines, which are all unaltered from the original text, as if they were hieroglyphics. It's not his fault though, he's just miscast. Jessica Chastain, Brian Cox, James Nesbitt and Vanessa Redgrave make up the supporting cast and they are all superb - there is, however, a noticeably eclectic mix of accents, once again detracting from the spectacle...who's going to watch it? It's extremely loud and bloody, which is likely to put off most Shakespeare fans, and it's Shakespeare, which is likely to put off most non-Shakespeare fans. One aspect of it that does work surprisingly well is the modern context. The guns-for-swords change is seamless and there are a few nice touches, e.g. when newsreader Jon Snow comes on TV to report on affairs in fluid thespian verse. Full Review To Index
10-16-11 Coriolanus Possesses Moments of Flair and Originality, but is Ultimately Disappointing (Cine-Vue) Coriolanus - like any Shakespearean hero - is not without its flaws. There are numerous scenes added to the text in order to provide context, which feel extremely clumsy. More surprisingly, the main problem lies with Fiennes' performance - in Coriolanus, he acts as if on stage. Screen acting and theatrical performance require different skills; this essential point appears to be something Fiennes has forgotten. He doesn't always utilise the camera, instead choosing instead to sweep across the set in a fashion all to reminiscent of his OTT performance as Voldermort in the Harry Potter franchise...Coriolanus is by no means entirely weak, at times possessing moments of flair and originality, but it is ultimately disappointing. Full Review To Index
08-12-11 Modern Day Shakespearian Coriolanus Fits Together (Indie Wire) Rookie feature director Ralph Fiennes and veteran screenwriter John Logan (The Aviator) have crafted a strong modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s bloody war tragedy Coriolanus. Fiennes shines in the central role, which he played on the London stage in 2000 to raves...Vanessa Redgrave, as his Machiavellian mother Volumnia, could win the Oscar for best supporting actress...Jessica Chastain, as Coriolanus’s sensitive wife Virgilia, is fine in a tiny role, and Gerard Butler is superb in a crucial part as Coriolanus’s sworn enemy, Aufidius, an equally fearsome general of the rebel forces, who eventually allies with Coriolanus...Fiennes grabbed some money from the BBC and from backers in Serbia; the movie was shot in Belgrade on a hand-held shoestring by The Hurt Locker‘s Barry Ayckroyd. This alternative Roman universe—with cars, uniforms, armored tanks and machine guns—all fits together...Here’s a sampling of Berlin reviews: Full Review To Index
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The Texas Killing Fields

10-19-11 Ebert: No Urgent Reason to have Made this Movie (Sun Times) "Texas Killing Fields" begins along the lines of a police procedural and might have been perfectly absorbing if it had played by the rules: strict logic, attention to detail, reference to technical police work. Unfortunately, the movie often seems to stray from such discipline. Scenes do not always necessarily follow one another. I was sometimes unclear who some of the characters were. Developments were explored that seemed of great importance to the detectives, and then the film would seem to lose track of them. The locations and cinematography distract from these problems because they have great intrinsic interest. If nothing riveting is happening, it seems to be taking place in a locale where it could happen; the fields and the worn little towns around them seem pregnant with possibilities…there seems no urgent reason to have made this movie; no character stands out, the plot seems absentminded, and what we're left with are the killing fields, which supply a great title but not much of a resolution. Full Review To Index
10-17-11 Jessica Once Again Surprising as a Texas Cop (Huffington Post) This is one of those thrillers that relies on the unreliability of cell phones for suspense. It also layers on a testy relationship between a pair of divorced cops (Worthington and the ever-present Jessica Chastain) who are forced to work together. And, finally, it's a movie where cops who should know better rush into dangerous situations without backup. Of course, without that kind of cop, where would movies like this be? There are car chases, fights, scenes of tense interrogations - all the essentials. While Mann gets believable performances out of her cast - Chastain once again surprising, this time as a rough-'em-up Texas cop - she can't make Texas Killing Fields into a believable or compelling film. It feels half-baked and half-hearted. Full Review To Index
10-14-11 Texas Killing Fields a Rare Film and an Entrancing Thriller ( The film is also visually stunning, carrying "a ghost-like and tantalizing beautiful appeal"…The effect is poignant making the design and camera movement effective from beginning to end - a fantastic storytelling tool. The acting is superb, especially from newcomer Chlo? Grace Moretz and Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life, The Help) both able to captivate everyone in the audience. Texas Killing Fields is a rare film, and entrancing thriller that will keep playing in the audience's head even after the last frame of the picture has ended. Full Review To Index
10-14-11 Solid Cast Moves through Stench of Death in The Texas Killing Fields (TIME) The solid cast plays this material as if it were brand new. Worthington, taking a break from blockbusters before shooting the sequels to Avatar and Clash of the Titans, is the steely foil to Morgan, a sad-eyed Javier Bardem lookalike who makes a tender humanity seem the highest form of machismo. Chastain and Moretz, who between them have appeared in every single recent American movie (correction: only 13 films in the past two years), provide exemplars of the smart, sexy woman and the beautiful, imperiled child. But all the characters - the heroes, the villains, the victims and the other sickly shades - tread through the narrative as if they are drenched in the stench of death. In an eye-blink the place could explode around them, or the dank ground could consume them. Full Review To Index
10-14-11 Killing Fields Effectively Depicts Mood of a Community Under Siege (Film School Rejects) With a memorable Jeffrey Dean Morgan performance at its center, Texas Killing Fields boasts a human dimension that enhances the impact of its strong noir craft. The blackness engulfing the picture's Texas City setting mirrors the tormented souls of detectives Brian Heigh (Morgan), a New York transplant, and hotheaded local boy Mike Sounder (Sam Worthington). The men are investigating a string of unsolved murders that have culminated in the bodies of teenage female victims being found in an oil field outside of town, which the locals have nicknamed the "killing fields." As the specter of these murders hangs over all, the town has been immersed in a sort of sinister dread…In grays and browns, on rainy nights and bleak days, the filmmaker portrays a community under siege. Vultures soar over the killing fields, the characters delve straight into the muck and an ever-encroaching anxiety adds urgency to the investigation. The film isn't quite of Zodiac's caliber, but it offers a similar portrait of police officers meticulously struggling with a faceless deadly enemy, while simultaneously stressing the ramifications of life under a constant terror threat. Mann crafts several strong set pieces, including a lengthy shootout and a genuinely gripping home invasion. She has an eye for sharp, subtly disorienting mobile camerawork that ably shapes the downtrodden look and feel of the morose setting and its inhabitants. Full Review To Index
10-13-11 Texas Killing Fields Needs More Room for Jessica (LA Weekly) Worthington's botched accent often makes him sound more like the transplanted New Yorker that glum Morgan is supposed to be playing, and one often wishes they'd both clear out to make room for more of Jessica Chastain, here as a detective from a neighboring township with an Annie Oakley complex after a lifetime of dealing with surly good ol' boys. Full Review To Index
10-13-11 Good Performers in Bad Script (Los Angeles Times) There is a lot of angst and anger walking around on-screen trying to pass for substance, mostly a lot of cops getting all up in criminals' faces. But as good as Worthington, Chastain, Moretz and Morgan can be as they try to untangle the morass and the menace - and get caught up in it - they just can't quite pull it off. (Though let me give a shout-out to whoever helped Chastain and Worthington master a very credible Texas drawl - well done). The real killer, sadly, is the script… things are either under-explained, like the Worthington character's seething rage, or over-explained, like everything about a key suspect, the many-tattooed Rule (Jason Clarke). The narrative swings wildly between people and places and events, which requires a lot of mood swings of the actors. That would be fine if they were grounded in a reality that we either understood or were interested in. Full Review To Index
10-13-11 Killing Fields Suffers from Periodic Lulls (Indie Wire) By surveying various disconnected lives in an opening sequence, Mann shows a willingness to push beyond the familiar procedural routine and put the town in closeup. It's a dreary place: In addition to a cookie-cutter pair of officers on the killer's tail, the ensemble includes Chloe Grace Moretz as the adolescent child of a broken home that's constantly under the scrutiny of Officer Brian Heigh (Jefrey Dean Morgan). A solemn and religious man always at odds with his responsibilities, he routinely clashes with his no-nonsense partner, Mike Souder (Sam Worthington). And then there's their measured colleague, Pam Stall (Jessica Chastain, in a tough counterpoint to her many softer roles), who often negotiates between their extreme reactions. But she can only do so much. From an early interrogation scene, it's clear that Brian and Mike inhabit the good-cop-bad-cop routine not by choice but by nature. However, the derivative characters don't hold down the potential of "Texas Killing Fields." Instead, it suffers from periodic lulls. The sleepy town has secrets to hide, but Mann doesn't generate enough interest to make it worth unraveling them. Full Review To Index
10-13-11 Texas Killing Fields: Decent Performances Undone by a Tepid Screenplay (Crave Online) Not that Texas Killing Fields enrages me, but then that's a big part of the problem. It failed to elicit a single, palpable emotional reaction throughout the entire running time thanks to muddled plotting, leisurely pacing and disappointing performances from actors trying to elevate material that is clearly beneath them. Texas Killing Fields is dramatically out to lunch… The plot of Texas Killing Fields would be pretty thin for a Law & Order episode, and it isn't aided by confusing storytelling…At one point Worthington says something to the effect of, "Do you even know where you are?" And that's when I realized that I had no idea where they were. I was never sure where the heck anything was in relation to the other locations in the film, which is odd for a movie in which geography is an important plot point... It's a plodding, confusing film with decent performances that are undone by a tepid screenplay riddled with plot holes and dangling threads. Full Review To Index
10-10-11 Killing Fields Starts Well but Unsatisfying in the End (Indie Wire) A dark, intense and psychologically bruising picture, the technical chops evinced in Mann's belated sophomore feature-length are impressive - from adept editing, first-rate choreography of shots (plus a few artful establishing ones) and perfectly gloomy cinematography, she's got it all down cold. However, while she's clearly got an eye for filmmaking, the rest of the film could use a little (or a lot of) work as there's a litany of problems that eventually make for a deeply unsatisfying picture. Opening well, right in the middle of conflict, we're introduced to Mike Sounder (an unintelligible Sam Worthington); a local homicide detective investigating the appearance of female body in the nearby bayous. His new partner is Brian Heigh, a cop from New York (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who is helping him investigate what appears to be a new addition to a series of unsolved murders…Likewise, another detective on the crime scene is a fiery redhead Detective Pam Stall (Jessica Chastain), who we learn is Sounder's ex-wife (though truthfully, this plot point feels a little too convenient and contrived, the first clue of amiss things to come)… Casting is a major issue. "Avatar" star and Australian actor Sam Worthington, cast as a native Texan when American actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan is also in the cast seems like a deeply puzzling decision. Worthington's version of a Southern accent is mumbled incoherence - a bizarre choice perhaps as an attempt to mask his accent's shortcomings…Chastain's role is typically rote on the page, but like a lot of her thankless roles this year ("Take Shelter" could have been one), this fine actress injects an urgency to everything she does and always elevates middling material…There's a lot of individual things to admire about "Texas Killing Fields," at least early on, but as a whole, it's deeply flawed, rather predictable police procedural. Full Review To Index
10-10-1 Texas Killing Fields an Engaging Movie that will Hold Attention (Digital Spy) It's a bit of a mystery as to why Texas Killing Fields has arrived with so little fanfare. In a week when a bloated 3D blockbuster strong-arms its way into theatres, it's a pity that this thriller - a perfectly decent alternative movie pick - will go unnoticed…Mike Sounder (Worthington) is the temperamental local detective on the case, while Brian Heigh (Morgan) is a New York cop who sits as a counter to his fiery partner. Heigh, a religious family man, is naturally at odds with his colleague, who's divorced from Chastain's detective Pam Stall…A shootout and car chase may pale in comparison to Heat, but a later siege on Lucie's dilapidated home is gripping and tense...The film occasionally breezes too quickly through its plot to connect the dots and reach its conclusion. Lee's trailer trash mother, Chastain's determined police officer and Graham's refinery worker are in need of more screen time to flesh out their characters…Visually, too, the film never quite fills out a widescreen frame enough to make it feel like essential viewing at the cinema…That said, Texas Killing Fields is a solid police procedural with strong performances from its four main actors. It hardly reinvents the wheel…it's an engaging movie that will hold your attention. Full Review To Index
09-23-11 The Texas Killing Fields Filled with Wasted Potential (Neon Tommy) Despite the constant references to the Killing Fields and the atrocities that have taken place there, the movie never taps into the full potential of the setting and the white knuckle effect it could have had on the audience. The storyline is mostly used to develop (poorly) its male characters instead of the female victim's stories. The males are portrayed as dominant characters opposite weak drug addict mothers, push over prostitutes and easy targets. The only exception to this rule is the exceptionally tough skinned Anne. Even Pam ( Jessica Chastain), Mike's ex-wife and fellow police detective cannot help but beg for her male counterparts to solve the crime. Aside from the powerful performance by Moretz and the jump-out-of-your-seat thrilling break in that takes place in the first 20 minutes, the movie is full of wasted potential and moments that fail to arrive…The final blow comes in the form of the trite "several months later" black screen that is used to tie up the story with a neat ending for a movie that never really began. Full Review To Index
09-10-11 Texas Killing Fields is Run of the Mill Police Story (Cine-Vue) Ami Canaan Mann's (daughter of Michael Mann) debut film Texas Killing Fields (2011) is a run-of-the-mill police procedural, which really has no place this year's Venice Film Festival. Detectives Souder (Sam Worthington) and Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) are investigating a series of abductions and murders of young women. The older detective is gripped by an almost religious sense of mission whereas Souder for all his in-your-face attitude, fights shy of drifting out of their jurisdiction. This latter point is particularly problematic as the Texas Killing Fields - the dumping ground where most the bodies are found - are in his ex-wife's jurisdiction. Jessica Chastain plays the role of the feisty police officer with verve… Texas Killing Fields' cast performances are all strong, particularly Sam Worthington. Full Review To Index
09-09-11 The Fields Highly Entertaining for Lovers of the Genre and Those who Like a Good Story (WhatCulture!) The film follows Texas City homicide detectives Mike Souder (Sam Worthington) and Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) while they are trying to solve one of their cases (Maan has previously claimed that there's still 27 cold cases in Texas) and outside their jurisdiction there is what the locals call the Killing Fields, a muddy area where many bodies of missing women are regularly found. Detective Pam, played by Jessica Chastain…is in charge of the murder investigation and she asks for Brian's help. Things are made more complicated because Brian and Mike are trying to protect little Anne Sliger (Chloe Moretz), a sweet little blonde angel who's mother "entertain men" in the house therefore forcing the kid to always be on her own in the streets. Mann's direction is fluid and intriguing from the get-go, she almost makes us feel as if we are flying inside a dream, or a nightmare as later we find out…it's a film that perfectly belongs in the cop genre, two cops chasing a serial killer, but Canaan Mann adds something more to it. We see the drama from the detectives's perspective but also from the victims. We are the victims of this crimes, we are the families of the dead women…It's a highly entertaining film for the lovers of the genre but also for those who like a good story and good filmmaking. Full Review To Index
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Take Shelter

10-05-11 Ebert: Take Shelter is Masterful Filmmaking (Chicago Sun-Times) Here is a frightening thriller based not on special effects gimmicks but on a dread that seems quietly spreading in the land: that the good days are ending…It is the gift of actor Michael Shannon as Curtis LaForche that while appearing to be a stable husband and father with a good job in construction, he also can evoke by his eyes and manner a deep unease… Stories about Curtis begin to spread in the community, and Curtis is not paranoid when he thinks people are talking about him. His explosion at a community benefit dinner is terrifying in its energy…his wife, Jessica Chastain is effective in her seventh major role this year; since "The Tree of Life," has any young actress ever put together such a series of roles?... And then a storm comes. Its nature need not be discussed here. It leads to a scene of searing power, in which Samantha tells Curtis that it is safe once again to return to the surface - that it is a step he must take personally. The story seems somewhat resolved. Then the film concludes not with a "surprise ending" but with a series of shots that brilliantly summarize all that has gone before. This is masterful filmmaking. Full Review To Index
09-17-11 Jessica is the Eye to Shannon's Storm in Take Shelter (Awards Daily) Further shelter from Curtis's intoxicating madness lies in Jessica Chastain's performance as Samantha, Curtis's pragmatic wife. While Samantha is possibly the least complexly written character Chastain has enacted this year - she's hardly Celia Foote - the absence of baity material allows Chastain to make the character her own, and she invests considerable range and compassion to her character. Chastain is the eye to Shannon's storm. Most laudable of Take Shelter, though, is the brilliantly spellbinding and ambiguous final act. Writer/director Jeff Nichols takes Shelter into uncharted terrain and ends the film with a dark open horizon. A haunting film, Take Shelter is surely to be one of the critical darlings of 2011. Full Review To Index
09-06-11 Take Shelter will be Remembered Years from Now (Exclaim!) Beyond the deliberate pacing and languid eye detailing the bright blue skies of the American Midwest, the painfully realistic dialogue and intensely nuanced performances from both Chastain and Shannon propel this movie to a rare and intense level of excellence. This is the kind of film that will be remembered years from now. Full Review To Index
07-05-11 Lebanese Review of Take Shelter (The Daily Star) BEIRUT: Insanity has proven a wellspring of inspiration for filmmakers...Curtis sits at the head of a young family. His wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) works as a seamstress from home. Their main preoccupation is their daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart), whose deafness is apparently treatable...“Take Shelter” is a masterful piece of work. The big-sky locations and the cinematography of Adam Stone make the movie an impressive visual experience but the look of the thing is pressed into servicing the mood Nichols wants to cultivate. That mood is dread and the film generates and accumulates dread as effectively as any slasher flick could ever hope to do...Curtis is not the only man in town to exhibit symptoms of paranoia. Then in addition there are the incidental details of the film – from the manifold references to the tough economic times everybody is confronting, to the ravings of a gun shop patron about the military’s nearby stockpiles of poison gas, to the crazed environmental distortions that inspire Curtis’ nightmares... Cannes Critics’ Week runs at Metropolis Cinema-Sofil until 8 July. Full Review To Index
06-30-11 Comment on Take Shelter Trailer (Flickering Myth) The introduction is spot on: not too long, poignant and well-edited. The supporting character comments the main character on the quality of his life, while said main character is watching a threatening tornado approach with disturbing curiosity rather than fear. A perhaps obvious marriage of audio and video for a solid first five seconds, but they work. Overall, there is a nice progression of events, a good build-up, an excellent choice of music, a steady pace. Full Review To Index
05-19-11 Take Shelter Wins Grand Prize in Critics Week Competition (TheWrap) A movie starring Jessica Chastain took the top prize in competition at Cannes on Thursday – but it wasn't "The Tree of Life," in which Chastain appears with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, and it wasn’t the festival's main competition, which will announce awards on Sunday. Rather, "Take Shelter," a psychological thriller directed by Jeff Nichols and starring Michael Shannon and Chastain, won the Grand Prize in the Critics Week competition, in which a jury headed by Korean director Lee Chang-Dong singled out the film from among seven competitors..."Take Shelter" also won the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers SACD prize. Full Review To Index
05-17-11 Take Shelter Reflects Modern Sense of Dread (IndieMoviesOnline) As a series of 21st century episodes have rocked faith in western power structures – variable degrees of military impotence in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya, terrorist atrocities bringing death to the streets of our greatest cities, the financial masters of the universe being exposed as trouserless blow-hards uselessly tinkering like the Wizard behind the curtain – so the sense that a change is gonna come has mutated into a creeping existential dread, an unending nightmare bereft of light and hope...It is hard not to receive Take Shelter as an expressionistic document of that dread, what with its study of the deterioration of construction worker Curtis LaForche...Curtis dreams of sky-blotting twisters which spew urinary streams of brown rain, of his dog attacking him, even of his wife, Samantha wielding a knife with menace (Samantha, incidentally, is played by Jessica Chastain, who would be as plausible as Shannon's daughter as she is as his wife. Maybe more so)...Working hard and treasuring his loved ones is not going to be enough for Curtis to make it. He has no belief that he can keep his job, no faith that he can protect his deaf daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart). His sole unshakable conviction is that the world is too cruel and immense and powerful for him not to be crushed by it...the film is hampered by a stony-faced sincerity...with Curtis positioned as a tragic figure, a man betrayed by life, when in truth we...have to acknowledge ourselves as at least partly culpable for our millennial woes. Full Review To Index
05-16-11 Take Shelter is Parable of New US Anxiety (Screen International) Emotionally authentic, and often moving, even while it flirts with thriller, horror and disaster-movie genre traits, the film features a riveting lead performance by Michael Shannon as a man struggling to come to terms with the realisation that of the imminent threats to his family that he sees all around him, the biggest may be himself. Awards action for Shannon is not unthinkable; Nichols’s fine original script (marred only by some second-act doldrums) and David Wingo’s sombre, ominous orchestral score also deserve nods...Perhaps the film’s greatest strength though is the way it combines hints that we’re watching a parable of the new US climate of anxiety with an unflinching dedication to the reality of its characters’ plights. Chastain is good as the film’s emotional touchstone, a mother striving to protect her child but also hold on to the man she loves, and help him to separate hallucination from reality. But it’s Shannon as a man desperate to keep a grip, yet unable to rewire his mind, who really stands out. Rarely has a descent into madness been presented with such disturbing and affecting empathy. Full Review To Index
01-31-11 Take Shelter Director Says Jessica is the Pivotal Character (Vanity Fair) When Jeff Nichols broke onto the scene with Shotgun Stories, in 2007, not only did he make Michael Shannon a star, but he also made quite a splash for himself...Take Shelter is already being called an American masterpiece...[Nichols says,] Ultimately, this film is about marriage, commitment, and communication...Michael Shannon is the main character, but Jessica Chastain is the pivotal character. Will she stay with him? Will she not stay? Will she support him? Will she not? The answer to that is the answer to this stress and this fear and, ultimately, the film. If this movie isn’t a film about marriage, commitment, and communication, what happens at the end, literally, doesn’t really matter. Full Review To Index
01-31-11 Jessica Matches Shannon Beat for Beat in Take Shelter ( Curtis (Michael Shannon) is a blue-collar worker, doing his best to support his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), and their young, deaf daughter. All seems to be going well, until Curtis starts having strange, apocalyptic dreams about an impending storm...Shannon's so good in the role that it would have been all too easy for him to completely dominate the film, but amazingly, the gorgeous Jessica Chastain, who plays his supportive, but no-nonsense wife, matches him beat for beat. Chastain's got a big year ahead of her, with a featured part in Terrence Mallick's TREE OF LIFE, and watching her here, it's impossible to deny that she's a huge talent just waiting to break out. This could have been the typical, hysterical wife role but Chastain gives her character a strength that makes her a force to be reckoned with. At the same time, it's made clear that she's madly in love with Curtis, as no matter how crazy he acts, she's never willing to just give him up, or allow him to sink into insanity...To me, TAKE SHELTER really felt like one of the big Sundance discoveries of the year...I really can't recommend it highly enough, as it works on so many levels. Full Review To Index
01-28-11? Take Shelter Sundance Review #8 (/FILM) Though Take Shelter moves like molasses punctuated with moments of frightening intensity, it never loses its dramatic tension. Nichols’ script and direction bring the audience into Curtis’s mindset. Much as he feels frightened, the pacing and visuals build a continual anticipation. Is Curtis crazy? Is he a prophet? From the minute the film begins, the audience is left with an uneasy feeling and we can latch onto whomever we want, be it Curtis, his friends, his wife Samantha, played by Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life) or his deaf daughter, played by Tova Stewart. However, while the film remains gripping throughout, when it was over I couldn’t help but be feel a little empty. Due to the pace of the film you have plenty of time to read into doesn’t quite give a hint as to what the filmmaker was trying to say. What the film means is totally up to you. Full Review To Index
01-28-11 Take Shelter Sundance Review #7 (Gordon and the Whale) Since I’ve been attending film festivals, there’s always been that one film that that leaves me slack-jawed. It sticks in my head for the duration of my stay, and all I want to do is talk about it. If time allows, I’ll catch a second or third screening of it. The fun part is taking fresh eyes with me, peeking at their reactions during certain parts, and talking about it as we exit the theater. This year at Sundance 2011, that film is Jeff Nichols’ TAKE SHELTER...From the first shot in the film, Curtis starts having terrifying dreams. They start with a wicked storm, pouring rain that resembles motor oil, and they end with him awakening to screams and real pain. Each one gets progressively worse. Are they predicting the end of the world? Appearing so undeniably real, Curtis starts to confuse real life with the dream world. As paranoia starts to take a toll, he begins to build a living quarters underground, risking his job security, marriage, and friends...TAKE SHELTER is proof that you don’t need to heavily rely on CGI to make a good story about the apocalypse...This film though, is driven by its central characters, Curtis and Samantha. As mentioned above, Shannon has no problem keeping my interest. Neither did Chastain – she gives us her all as Samantha and it’s powerful. Full Review To Index
01-28-11 Take Shelter Sundance Review #6 ( Before the screening of Take Shelter, writer-director Jeff Nichols explained to the audience that he was attempting to tap into an emotion of dread and anxiety. For the first act of his movie, he’s wildly successful at capturing that feeling. Vivid, nightmarish dream sequences set the film up as a paranoid thriller. But then Nichols hits the breaks, stops the dreams, and the tension slowly leaves the picture as it moves at a glacial pace. While he’s able to eventually pick it back up at the end and come to an interesting conclusion, he is never able to reconnect with his audience...I applaud Nichols for trying to tie in legitimate wide-spread fears with Curtis’ fear of the storm. Adam Stone’s cinematography is gorgeous and full of stark colors and contrast. However, when the film hits the second act, Nichols’ drops the dreams and slows the pacing to a crawl...Nichols is able to get the movie back on track in the last twenty minutes by finally pushing Curtis and Sam’s relationship to a turning point. But by then the damage is done and we’ve been dragged along too slowly to feel invested in the characters despite the strong visuals and performances...Take Shelter is almost a brilliant paranoid thriller that slyly taps into contemporary dread. The story just takes too long to get to where it needs to be. I understand Nichols wants to hold tension by keeping scenes quiet and sparse...What’s most frustrating about Take Shelter is that there’s a dull, slow-paced drama sandwiched between an intense, paranoid thriller. Full Review To Index
01-26-11 Take Shelter Sundance Review #5 (Time Out Chicago) Take Shelter, a doom-marinated drama that offers a first-row seat to one man’s apocalyptic anxiety and psychological bust-up. Staring up at the sky as a nasty Midwestern storm brews, a construction worker named Curtis (Michael Shannon) radiates dread. Something is definitely troubling him: Maybe it’s those dreams he’s been having, the ones filled with strange people attacking his five-year-old daughter. Maybe it’s the motor oil that’s seemingly raining down from the sky. Maybe it’s the flocks of birds flying in odd, helixlike patterns. By the time he starts building an underground survival space in his backyard, his long-suffering wife (Jessica Chastain) thinks he may truly be losing his marbles. Us, we’re not so sure that his hallucinations aren’t omens of some bona fide bad juju on the horizon. Is Curtis a paranoid schizophrenic or a prophet?...You’re never sure whether he’s more scared that he’s going crazy, or worse, that he isn’t, and as the visions start to get more vivid, Shannon lets you see each seam slowly unraveling. Slowly, that is, until Nichols gives his star a big “There’s a storm a-comin’!” screamfest, which is when Take Shelter begins to lose its carefully cultivated cool. Even as the third act starts to push the narrative into Twilight Zone territory, the sense of this-is-the-way-the-world-ends that Nichols & Co. channel gets under your skin and burrows there. Full Review To Index
01-26-11 Take Shelter Sundance Review #4 (Vanity Fair) Movies can occasionally be works of art. Take Shelter is such a film. Jeff Nichols’s follow-up to his highly regarded first film, Shotgun Stories, is an existential parable about the dread that underlies even the most modest life, and the struggle to function that occurs when awareness of that dread overtakes your soul. More concretely, Take Shelter follows the effects this baseless anxiety has on that endangered species, the blue-collar American family man...when increasingly bizarre nightmares about foreboding apocalyptic storms haunt him well into the waking hours, this tightly woven life quickly unravels. The insuperable anxieties these dreams provoke cause Curtis to exhibit more and more erratic behavior...What moves you most about Take Shelter are the little moments of Curtis playing with his daughter while building a storm shelter—as well as Samantha’s fragile strength in both providing her husband comfort and pushing him to overcome what threatens to defeat him. With her own quiet power, Jessica Chastain carries off the acrobatic task of portraying a loving wife who is at the same time repulsed by her husband’s insane behavior and dedicated to holding her family together. Between them, Shannon and Chastain play out a powerful, poignant duet of trust tested to its breaking point. Full Review To Index
01-25-11 Take Shelter Sundance Review #3 (Salt Lake Tribune) If you stretched a "Twilight Zone" episode to two hours by adding endless dramatic pauses to every scene, you'd get this quasi-apocalyptic drama. Working-class Curtis (Michael Shannon) starts having nightmares in which he sees oily rain and zombie-like neighbors. Is he having visions of the end times? Or is he showing signs of schizophrenia, like his mother (Kathy Baker)? Curtis tries to tough out his problem, not confiding in his loving wife (Jessica Chastain), who starts to wonder if he's losing it. Writer-director Jeff Nichols ("Shotgun Stories") sets a brooding, somber tone, but lets scenes run on too long to keep the tension going. Full Review To Index
01-25-11 Take Shelter Sundance Review #2 (Indie Wire) Director Jeff Nichols re-teams with Michael Shannon for the absorbing saga of a mentally disturbed husband and father inexplicably driven to build a tornado shelter in his backyard. As with “Shotgun Stories,” Nichols assembles a tense portrait of blue-collar life, while deepening his thematic interests and working on a bigger scale. Burrowing into the subconscious of a damaged man, he delivers a modern American epic with extraordinary restraint...“Take Shelter” opens with Shannon, as the construction worker Curtis, gazing off into the distance as a vast storm approaches. Oil rains from the sky—and then he wakes up. The sequence marks the first of several obscure dreams and visions tormenting Curtis with increasing intensity...Raising a deaf daughter with his supportive wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain), Curtis spends his off-hours drinking with friend and co-worker Dewart (Shea Whigham), an admirer of Curtis’s evident contentment. “You’ve got a good life,” he tells his pal. “That’s the best compliment you can give a man.” The ensuing conflicts test the fragility of that statement, as Curtis’ neatly calibrated world runs into a wall... Chastain brings an equally compelling dimension to the story as her character struggles to understand Curtis’s frustrations and fights to support him against the unseen threats lurking in his head...HOW WILL IT PLAY? Purchased by Sony Pictures Classics ahead of Sundance, the movie will undoubtedly become an awards season contender based around Shannon’s haunting performance, while helping Nichols advance his rising career. Full Review To Index
01-25-11 Take Shelter Sundance Review #1 (Reuters) Snapped up pre-Sundance by Sony Pictures Classics, this knockout prestige picture is a masterfully controlled piece of work on every level -- from its precise modulation of mood to its piercing emotional accuracy, its impeccable craftsmanship and breathtaking imagery. Rarely have electrical storms, cloud formations and glowering skies had such an unnerving impact or expressed such dark visual poetry. While at times it conjures suggestions of vintage Polanski-style paranoia in rural America, this haunting psychological thriller is also a quasi-horror movie firmly rooted in slice-of-life reality...From cinematographer Adam Stone's first arresting widescreen view of Curtis standing outside his small-town Ohio home, staring up at an ominous sky as clouds burst and oily rain falls, it's clear this man has disturbing thoughts on his mind. He has a loving home life with wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and 6-year-old daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart), who has lost her hearing but is scheduled for corrective surgery...From flocks of birds like moving ink stains overhead, to walls of thundering clouds closing in on him, to levitating furniture that comes crashing down, these frightening visions are executed with stunning effectiveness by an ace visual effects team led by Chris Wells...Chastain is heartbreaking as a woman wondering if the person she loves has become someone else, her face dissolving into wreckage as Curtis finally explains his fears...When Curtis explodes and starts prophesying doom to a community hall full of locals, it's among the film's most heated moments but also its saddest, played out in the scared, bewildered faces of the people present. Full Review To Index
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The Debt

09-06-11 Mirren Fans May Get Their Backs Up over Jessica (Baltimore Sun) Mirren fans who go into this movie cold may get their backs up when they realize that another performer plays the star's character as a young woman. But any feelings of "…I thought I was seeing a Helen Mirren movie" disappear when Jessica Chastain enters East Berlin and imbues the character in her youth with all the excitement and uncertainty of a splendid operative on her first field job. In "The Help," as the "white-trash" housewife who learns to see through the false values of the upper-crust Junior League in Jackson, Mississippi, Chastain thrashed through her scenes with a beautiful awkwardness, as if her body were made of mismatched parts. In "The Debt" she's lithe and eloquent. The one female member of the Mossad team must subject herself to the Nazi doctor's gynecological examination. You can see her fear and mortification -- and her determination -- in Chastain's eyes, and when she finally drops her disguise, the performer expresses, in swift, galvanizing movements, the liberating power of the truth. Full Review To Index
09-02-11 Jessica Chastain Takes Center Stage in The Debt (Tulsa World) "The Debt" is supposed to be an ensemble piece, but Jessica Chastain gives such an unforgettable performance that this feels like a star vehicle for her. She's just not that big of a star - yet. This performance, as well as those in "The Tree of Life" (as the mother) and "The Help" (as the outcast Celia Foote), will change that quickly. Full Review To Index
08-31-11 Helen Mirren Appears in the Posters, but Jessica Chastain owns The Debt (Jewish United Fund) Even though Helen Mirren's face appears in all the posters, it's Jessica Chastain who owns The Debt. Chastain is this year's "It Girl" (luminous as the mother in The Tree of Life and adorable as the bimbo in The Help), but I am still dumbfounded by her transformation into Young Rachel Singer. There's only one performance I can compare it to: in 1974, I walked into The Godfather: Part II having liked The Godfather well enough for a gangster flick, but wait! Who is this guy playing "Young Vito Corleone"? He's phenomenal! Sure enough, DeNiro, who had some good credits before that, won an Oscar in 1975 which launched him into the cinematic stratosphere. In both cases, the magic lies in an actor's ability to embody a far more famous actor so completely that you really believe you are actually seeing the young Marlon Brando and the young Helen Mirren even though your brain certainly knows otherwise. Full Review To Index
08-31-11 Ebert: The Debt has an Unfortunate Flaw ( The architecture of The Debt has an unfortunate flaw. The younger versions of the characters have scenes that are intrinsically more exciting, but the actors playing the older versions are more interesting. Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds bring along the weight of their many earlier roles. To be sure, the older actors get some excitement of their own, but by then the plot has lost its way. Maybe the problem is a structure that cuts around in time. Three characters, six actors, and although the woman is always presumably Rachel, I was sometimes asking myself which of the two men I was seeing when young. In a thriller, you must be sure. I suspect this movie would have been more effective if had it remained entirely in the past, especially given all we know. Full Review To Index
08-31-11 Jessica Propels The Debt in Two Ways (HitFix) The film played at last year's Toronto Film Festival, and then promptly dropped off the radar completely. Now, after a quick distributor shift, Focus Features is putting the film out, and they benefit from the delay thanks to the fact that Jessica Chastain went from being an unknown quality to being one of the stars of a big summer hit and one of the most-discussed arthouse releases of the year…It must be a terrifying challenge for a young actress just defining themselves onscreen to be asked to play a young Helen Mirren, but Chastain seems to me to be the real deal, someone who embraces a challenge, and since the film is really about Rachel, both of the actors have to play the same character. We need to see the choices of one reflected in the actions of the other, and it works. Chastain is very good, and there is a righteous fire in the way she plays the part. These are young people, driven by anger and sorrow, and there are moments where Rachel makes some pretty unsympathetic choices. Chastain makes sense of those moments, emotionally, and her performance is so strong that she creates a sense of gravity, with Csokas and Worthington caught in her orbit, reacting to her. She drives the film, but Worthington is very good here, using his quiet smolder to suggest a young man already hollowed out by his desire for revenge. Full Review To Index
08-31-11 The Debt's Heart Beats with this Year's Breakthrough Actress Jessica Chastain (Washington Post) Though Helen Mirren features most prominently in advertising materials, the film's heart beats with the younger version of her character, played by this year's breakthrough actress Jessica Chastain ("The Tree of Life," "The Help"). It is Chastain who survives the film's most chilling encounters: As Rachel Singer, an agent pursuing "Surgeon of Birkenau" Dieter Vogel (perpetrator of Josef Mengele-type concentration-camp medical experiments), she poses as an East German fertility patient and must allow the man she's hunting to give her multiple medical examinations. Full Review To Index
08-30-11 Jessica Chastain is a Revelation as Young Rachel in The Debt (Dallas News) The Jewish Film Festival of Dallas is an annual showcase for some of the best foreign films. In 2009, the festival screened a 2007 Israeli thriller titled The Debt. A potent drama with a Holocaust theme, it's one of the best films in festival history. You should see it…The remake is at its best when the young Rachel, Stephan and David are on the screen. Jessica Chastain is a revelation as the young Rachel. She has appeared in recent months in The Tree of Life, The Help and now this, underscoring a formidable versatility as well as her training at Juilliard and her prowess at Shakespeare. She is truly a remarkable actress. [submitted by a reader] To Index
08-30-11 Jessica Gives The Debt its Urgency and its Soul ( Although Mirren is impressive, it's Chastain who gives "The Debt" its urgency and its soul. Virtually unknown just a year ago, she has emerged as one of the most exciting actresses in American film, with recent standout roles in "The Tree of Life" and "The Help." Chastain has the rare ability to disappear into a character while paradoxically retaining her singular charisma. Full Review To Index
08-30-11 Jessica Turns in a Riveting Performance in The Debt (Fresno Bee) Madden does get it right with the casting, especially the performances by Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain as Rachel, the female member of the team. Rachel not only agrees to live with a monstrous lie as the young agent, but she comes to embrace it in the passing years. Both actresses show raw emotions at the confusion and pain they feel. These are two actors able to say so much with just a simple look. Chastain brings a mix of strength and vulnerability to the role as the novice secret agent. She must push down her deep hatred if the mission has any chance to succeed. At the same time, she is battling with her own sexual and emotional problems. Not every actor can be both emotionally naked and hidden but Chastain turns in a riveting performance. Full Review To Index
08-30-11 The Debt Pays off with Action more than Big Message (Boston Globe) "The Debt" pays off with action more than big message. "The Debt,'' an English-language remake of a 2007 Israeli hit, is being sold as a straight-up "Mission Impossible'' thriller about three Mossad agents bringing a Nazi war criminal to justice. In fact it's a lot pulpier and more dramatically interesting than that, but you can't explain why without giving away the twist that resets the story's priorities halfway through. Suddenly a movie about heroes has become a film about humans, and the stark narrative field of black and white has become infiltrated by shades of gray. Full Review To Index
08-28-11 Jessica's and Sam Worthington's On-screen Chemistry is Perfect in The Debt (The Daily Campus) A surprisingly sweet storyline comes from the on-mission relationship of Chastain's Rachel and Sam Worthington's David. Even though they are told to play a couple in order to capture Dr. Vogel, a real relationship forms between the young David and Rachel. Chastain and Worthington's on-screen chemistry was perfect. Being the devoted agents they are, the couple suppresses their feeling for each other, thus making their one kiss in the movie more passionate than ever...While Chastain may not be near as accomplished as Mirren, judging by her performance in "The Debt," she soon will be. Chastain's performance as Rachel Singer is an intelligent combination of a fragile girl in love and a deadly Israeli spy. Full Review To Index
08-25-11 Jessica Steals the Show in The Debt (Exclaim!) To say that Jessica Chastain steals the show would be an understatement. Scenes where she tries to ward off discomfort and anxiety while being examined come off as singularly unnerving. She manages to balance tough and vulnerable without ever denying a humanitarian emotional core. This is particularly apparent in her reactions to shockingly anti-Semitic goading tactics from the doctor post-kidnap. It's her performance, along with Mirren's modern day depiction of the same character, which helps add a dimension of much-needed human complexity to what is merely an above-average, somewhat predictable thriller. Full Review To Index
08-25-11 The Debt Raises Serious Issues without Exploiting or Trivializing Them ( The announcement that the 2007 Israeli drama “Ha-Hov” (“The Debt”) was going to be remade in English was widely welcomed, presumably because of the casting of Helen Mirren. Certainly it wasn’t because people knew and admired the original film, which screened in just a handful of U.S. festivals — including a Jewish film festival in the East Bay in 2009. At that time, I was turned off by the Israeli movie’s crass use of a Nazi villain to drive a pulpy suspense yarn. So I was not looking forward to a remake, even if it was being made by John Madden, the Oscar-nominated director of the Academy Award–winning “Shakespeare in Love.” However, I underestimated Madden’s skill and integrity, for “The Debt” is a smart, beautifully crafted thriller that raises serious issues without exploiting or trivializing them. Full Review To Index
08-13-11 Jessica's Rachel the Glue that Binds The Debt Together ( Jessica Chastain’s performance as the younger Rachel is the glue that binds the entire story together. Rachel appears reserved yet below the surface is decisively strong and brutal. This year has been Chastain’s coming out as an actress, thus far in “The Tree of Life,” and “The Help.” She matches her wonderful efforts in those films equally in “The Debt” as she creates a character that is both tender and brash. As the older Rachel, Helen Mirren is no less impressive as she portrays an intensity that has only grown stronger through the 30 years since the original mission...Jesper Christiansen’s performance as Dieter Vogel is more than just disturbing, as he becomes evil incarnate. David, Rachel, and Stephen all reach their own breaking point as the Nazi doctor creates a living hell for them using no more than a few short words and piercing glances. “The Debt” hinges on the element of surprise and mystique that surrounds the order of events and the actual truth of what took place during the attempt to take down Vogel. One pivotal scene in the story is seen more than once from different perspectives, altering the entire tone of the film near its halfway mark. This movie is constructed as a thriller, and a violent, pulsating one at that...“The Debt” feels like two distinctly different films perfectly sewn into one. On one side is the sequences of 1966 where the characters go through immense turmoil and are permanently scarred by their experience. The present is sort of a catharsis, as Rachel must once and for all close the chapter on a part of her life that has kept her unknowingly imprisoned and shackled. The movie carefully walks the line of playing cat and mouse with the audience, but never to a point that makes the film appear like it is touting its own brilliance or surprising the audience for the sake of shock value. Full Review To Index
08-12-11 Jessica's Role in The Debt Described ( In 1965 Rachel (now played by Jessica Chastain) is in East Berlin with her fellow Mossad agents...David (Sam Worthington) and Stephan (Marton Csokas). Their capture the Nazi war criminal Dr. Dieter Vogel (brilliantly played by Jesper Christensen) and bring him back to Israeli to stand trial. Vogel is known as the feared Surgeon of Birkenau. Rachel sets herself up as bait in order to capture Vogel. The good doctor is now practicing medicine under an assumed name. Rachel becomes his patient pretending that she is having trouble getting pregnant. The look on Rachel's face every time this twisted evil man touches her, will have you squirming in your seat. I know I was. It's during this mission that an unexpected love triangle grows between Rachel, David and Stephan. An affair that has consequences for years after. 'The Debt' is an old fashioned thriller. The suspense builds in and across two different time periods with startling action and surprising revelations. Full Review To Index
08-08-11 Jessica's Performance Works Well with Sam Worthington in The Debt ( It is a tale of how people live up to the legends they make for themselves and how a nation can buy into that legend without knowing the whole story. For most of the film, it all works together very well, however, at times loses steam...we flash-back to 1965 where young Rachel (Jessica Chastain) meets up with young David (Sam Worthington) and young Stefan (Marton Csokas). This is where the majority of the story takes place and for much of the film it works very well. Chastain’s performance is restrained and works well off of the often quiet performance by Worthington. The flash-back story is where most of the weighty drama occurs in the story, however, these quieter moments are peppered with some great high-stakes sequences...the intelligence of the story paired with the performances make for a refreshing running time. Helen Mirren is icing on the cake and overall, the film is quite good and will play very well if you are a fan of the genre. Full Review To Index
10-23-10 The Debt is a Solid Thrill Ride (Examiner) “The Debt” is a solid thrill ride. Unlike most films centered on Holocaust events, this film manages to be just as modern as it is historical. The acrobatic, time-bending editing takes what would otherwise be a very linear narrative and warps it into a loop-holed, suspense-laden tale with time sequences that cut back and forth within a forty-year sweep...the real stand-out of “The Debt” is Jessica Chastain, who portrays Rachel Singer, Mirren’s character, as a young woman. She is the actress literally involved in extricating the actor who portrays the Nazi war monster. Chastain is remarkable- she outshines every other person in every scene she plays, capturing the terror, horror, fear, deft physical martial artistry, psychological manipulation and sadness required by this role. In another season, Chastain might even have been nominated for Best Support Actress- or perhaps even Best Actress, as her performance is that powerful and complete. However, in that this film probably won’t be released till post-Oscar season, and it isn’t so phenomenal as to capture the Academy’s attention till January 2012, I doubt Chastain- nor the film’s editors- will be receiving any Academy recognition... “The Debt” deserves both domestic and international distribution, and should make a killing at the box office. Pun intended. Full Review To Index
09-28-10 The Debt Had Me on the Edge of My Seat ( The [Toronto International Film] festival screened around 300 films over its 11 days...TIFF really is a festival for film gourmands, and while it is an important tool of the industry (second only to Cannes and ahead of Venice and Berlin), it is first and foremost a public festival...The Debt: A botched Mossad abduction of a former concentration camp doctor in mid 1960s Berlin has far reaching consequences for the trio of Israeli agents involved. This taut thriller had me on the edge of my seat very early on a Sunday morning, and features great performances from Helen Mirren and relative newcomer Jessica Chastain (portraying the younger Mirren) as the intelligence agent whose involvement in the plot makes her an Israeli national hero. Full Review To Index
09-18-10 Toronto Reviewer Intrigued with Jessica in The Debt (The Film Stage) That is pretty much what you get with John Madden‘s latest. It tells the flashback story of three Mossad Agents who need to capture a Nazi war criminal, and how that effects them in the present day. Sam Worthington does drama just fine, but the film really got me intrigued with Jessica Chastain, who will be seen in Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life. Full Review Back to Top
09-17-10 Toronto Festival Viewer Includes Jessica in Best Breakthrough Performances (Boise Weekly) The biggest surprise for me at TIFF was how good the movies turned out to be. The lineup set high expectations and more often than not, I was engaged, provoked and most importantly, entertained. In my opinion from the cheap seats, the winners are as follows: The best breakthrough performances were Andrea Riseborough in Brighton Rock and Jessica Chastain in The Debt. The best audience pleasers: Black Swan, Conviction, Hereafter, The Debt and The King’s Speech. Full Review To Index
09-14-10 Jessica Praised The Debt Review ( Bouncing back and forth in time, The Debt is a satisfying thriller that is almost so subtle it feels like it's based on a true story. The balance between story and attempts to thrill is this film's strongest asset. Situations aren't exaggerated in order to make for increased tension, instead the heat of the moment and occasional romantic asides keep things moving along...Playing the younger versions of the three leads, Chastain, Worthington and Csokas serve their characters well, not to mention this is the coming out party for Chastain whose work in Terrence Malick's upcoming Tree of Life is already said to be top notch. She gives a good showing here in a role that is essentially the lead character of the film. She's mirrored by Helen Mirren who plays Rachel 30 years later and the two make for an impressive combination. Full Review To Index
09-14-10 The Debt Jumps the Shark (HitFix) [The Debt] features great cinematography from Vaughn regular Ben Davis and stellar turns from Chastain (who will be in Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life"), Worthington (best dramatic work to date) and the incomparable Mirren. In fact, for most of the film you have a feel all three are major players in the Oscar race for supporting actor and actress. That is…until the third act...the choices Vaughn and co-screenwriters Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan make towards the end of the film are jaw-droppingly bad. Terms like "nuke the fridge" and "jump the shark" are often used in genre or event movies, but rarely in a thriller of this caliber. But for reasons this pundit can't understand -- nor could anyone else in my screening -- the picture just goes the complete wrong way and it does so badly. And, what could have been a great, smart and moving thriller becomes a picture that leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. Well, at least until you remember the fine performances before those moments. The strange thing is the picture could be easily rectified by cutting before this sequence at not one, but two natural end points. Full Review To Index
No Date-2010 The Debt Never Loses Focus But Wilts Toward the End (Killer Reviews) John Madden is no stranger to award winning dramas. Shakespeare in Love won out over Saving Private Ryan and Ethan Frome was a well received romance back in 1993. Madden works the camera like a maestro in effortlessly weeding the story through multiple decades. The film never loses focus and relies on its strengths – namely the performances of Mirren, Csokas and Chastain – to carry the heavy plotline forward. However, in the final acts, the story gets a little lost. Watching Mirren head to Kiev, Ukraine was a leap of faith and political, social and moral values begin to choke the life out of what was a better than average thriller up to that point. With the conclusion of The Debt being too heavy handed to maintain the thin weight of the first ¾, The Debt eventually fails to be the film that showed award promise in the trailers. We are not suggesting that The Debt is a bad film, but its final reel wilt does take away from the execution of its predecessors. Full Review To Index
No Date-2010 Plenty of Action and a Powerful Subtext (SBS Films) Alternate titles for The Debt, a decades-spanning thriller pivoting on a nail-biting mission behind the Iron Curtain, could be 'Gravitas,' or 'History Rears Its Head' or 'While It's Entirely Possible That The Truth Will Set You Free, Lies Will Definitely Do a Number on You.' In addition to being a fairly gripping tale told via fine performances, The Debt falls into the category of movies given to lingering in one's memory in the brain whorl marked "What Would I Have Done Under The Same Circumstances?" The film makes you want to be a Mossad agent en route to making you glad you're not one...The opening sequence, in which a young woman and two youngish men exit a military transport plane and emerge into the sunlight in Israel, circa 1966, takes on a very different connotation when it is revisited at film's end...The Debt features longing and regret and botched romance and some breathless hand-to-hand (not to mention thigh-to-neck) combat and heart-in-throat improvisation under harrowing circumstances...Chastain and Mirren are a good physical and temperamental match...Madden tackles themes – honor, duty, sacrifice – that have been diluted in many contemporary films in order to get-to-the-action...There's plenty of action but there's also a powerful subtext that keep percolating just below the surface. It's a good combination. Full Review To Index
To Index

The Help

08-27-11 Example of Critique that The Help does not Capture the Civil Rights Era (World Socialist Web Site) Unfortunately, the film falls short of a credible presentation, as the reality of the situation is not tackled with any degree of seriousness. One of the most jarring elements is the absence of any reference to the mass struggles that shattered the Jim Crow structure in the South at the time, or any indication of their influence and atmosphere. This is not the concern of either the movie or the book. In fact, the book’s jacket cover informs the potential reader that “Change begins with a whisper.” And elevated to historical catalyst—or whisperer-in-chief—is the middle class do-gooder...While there is much focus on Hilly and her band of bigots, the assassination of prominent NAACP leader Medgar Evers in Jackson in June 1963 by a white racist, an earthshaking event in the region, by contrast, is given short shrift by the filmmakers. The Help is not simply a reductive—to say the least—period piece, whose main dynamic is a skirmish between good and evil, with blacks on one side and whites on the other. It rewrites, probably out of light-mindedness and lack of knowledge more than anything else, the history of social struggle in America and postwar history in general...A few horrors described in the book are tellingly omitted from the film. For example, in the novel, a son of one of the maids mistakenly uses a bathroom designated for whites and is chased down, beaten and blinded. And another: the book states that in 1963 a man named Carl Roberts was “found cattle-branded and hung from a pecan tree” for calling the governor “a pathetic man with the morals of a streetwalker.” Such politically motivated sadism—all too common at the time—is avoided by the filmmakers. Why? Full Review To Index
08-25-11 The Help not Meant to be the Entire Story of the Civil Rights Movement (Huffington Post) I'm not going to get into a point-by-point rundown of why I think many of the criticisms being hurled at The Help are just-plain wrong...much of the outcry over The Help comes not from what is in the movie itself, but rather what isn't in the film, and (more importantly) what isn't in the marketplace...As a stand-alone film, it works as a solid, if not awe-inspiring character piece involving a number of women (black and white) who exist in an employer/employee relationship during the middle of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. If the picture were one of a dozen films being released by a major studio that centered around African-America actors, its flaws would be less of an issue...But it is silly to condemn the one 'shining' example and punish it for the non-existence of other pictures like it...The Help is NOT an all-encompassing story about the Civil Rights Movement. It does not portend to represent every single black woman who suffered under Jim Crow. It does not portend to claim that African-Americans were only able to take their institutionalized freedoms because of plucky white women of the is not the responsibility of The Help to be the be-all, end-all big-studio movie involving the Civil Rights Movement. It does not concern itself with those who actively fought for freedom because that is not the story being told. It is a story about those who merely endured during a time of social injustice, and that story is every bit as relevant as the struggles of The Freedom Riders or the indiviudual portraits of iconic characters such as Medgar Evers or Rosa Parks...The Help is not a story about those on the frontlines, and it is not a story about a great social victory that was won. It is a character study, full of small victories and larger defeats. Full Review To Index
08-22-11 Jessica's The Help Book Fan Grandmother Gives Thumbs Up to Jessica as Celia (Fox All Access) At first, Chastain was worried about what her grandmother would thing about the movie and her performance. Those fears were laid to rest, however, after Jessica took Grandma and a few of her friends to the premiere. And although she’s gotten plenty of great feedback on the movie, Chastain told us that “thumbs up” from her grandmother was the best compliment she could ever receive. Full Review To Index
08-21-11 Best Performance of The Help Belongs to Jessica (The Daily Athenaeum) While "The Help" does a good job of recreating the 1960s, the story it tells could use some work...As acting goes, both Stone and Davis did great jobs, but occasionally it felt like Spencer wasn't sure what to do with herself when she wasn't talking, almost like a living cardboard cut-out. Howard also did a great job of being a great combination of passive-aggressive and snootiness that was needed for the film's villain. However, the best performance belongs to Jessica Chastain, a housewife who doesn't seem to fit in with the local girl's club, but is really just looking for a friend. Surprisingly, the original score composed by Thomas Newman was one of the best things about this movie..."The Help" isn't perfect, but it does a fine job of recreating an important time in American history and is a story that is worth being heard at least once. Full Review To Index
08-19-11 Critic Defends The Help against Racial Criticism (Huffington Post) Two criticisms I've seen of The Help are the use of the N-word -- and the stereotype some have tasted in the fried chicken of Minny Jackson, played brilliantly by Olivia Spencer. Not only does The Help not shy from that history, but the assassination of civil rights Evers in Jackson in June 1963 is not mere background for the film. Audiences see actual news footage of Evers stating his positions on living black-and-white television shortly before he was killed. The night of his murder, Aibileen Clark (in a star turn by Viola Davis) is shown with another black commuter being ordered off the bus home, the driver calling them by the N-word, because something terrible has happened. Her fear of white brutality so palpitates her heart the she races home, stumbling hard along the way, to gather her children around in the safety of their small home...Listen to it in The Help and get mad -- but at the culture that routinely demeaned black people -- not at the film, which aims to tell it like it was...Some criticism of this film is legitimate. Most of the white women in the movie are two dimensional. One exception is the beautifully nuanced depiction of Celia Foote by Jessica Chastain, as the blonde who is shunned by a bevy of young housewives desperate to be part of the clique. And the weakest performance among an otherwise marvelous cast, is by Bryce Dallas Howard as the race-baiting and two-dimensionally callous Hilly. However, the unwarranted attacks -- that is, those imposing racial preconceptions and discomfort apart from the film's own merits -- can only defeat the intentions of many race-mired critics. How many more films exploring American racism will Hollywood produce in light of the current racial second-guessing? Hollywood will run scared. And potential roles for these or other black actors in midlife or older will remain as scarce as ever. Full Review To Index
08-17-11 The Help does not Capture the Spirit of the Times (Politic365) This movie falls short of painting a realistic backdrop of the hell on earth it really was. Yes it was uncomfortable to watch quite a few scenes, but there were no knots in my stomach. After all I’ve seen footage of 1960s water hoses being turned on peaceful protesters, pictures of the swinging, burnt remains of lynching victims and the bloodthirsty crowds that rathered see James Meredith dead than he dare be allowed to enter the white walls of Ole Miss. I really had to suspend my disbelief to get into the story. I am not suggesting that this movie should have been dark and gritty (it’s not that kind of story), but I am accusing it of not capturing the atmosphere of the times. Save the scene in which Viola Davis desperately runs home after being let off the bus due the Medgar Evers’ shooting, I sometimes felt I had no context for the story being told. Having more clearly established the setting would have given the story a much heavier arc and raised the stakes for all involved just a bit more (including the audience)...Viola Davis is the real reason to see this film. Her performance hangs heavy in the air, unfettered and unencumbered by the blithe re-telling of what life for maids in 1960s Mississippi was like. Watching her on screen is like watching an entirely different film. She cuts through the gloss to give the movie the texture it needs. Full Review To Index
08-16-11 Why Some Criticize The Help (Salon) The film has generated criticism for its supposed whitewashing of one of the most contentious, painful periods in recent American history. The Association of Black Women Historians recently issued a statement on the best-selling book and film, sating that, among other things, "'The Help' is not a story about the millions of hard-working and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women's lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment." The Boston Globe has criticized the film as "an all-American cop-out."...its detractors wail..."Why this, when there are other books, written by actual black women, to be read?" True, and maybe readers who enjoyed "The Help" will now seek them out...much of the criticism of the movie and book also stems from its restrained depiction of the era's sexual harassment and racial violence. Yet it seems not so much a conspicuous oversight as a narrative choice -- "The Help" is a story that takes place largely in the genteel domestic sphere, and studies the ways that females of the era both dished out and endured racism...It's clear that the main problem a lot of people have with "The Help" is that the story was written by a white lady...It's not about the big news stories of the early civil-rights era -- it's a story about having difficult and necessary exchanges about race...that "The Help" has touched off such intense debate, such vehement criticism, is a good thing, because it says that we're doing just that still. Full Review To Index
08-15-11 The Help Well Received at Academy Members Showing (Reuters) The ensemble film, which was adapted from Kathryn Stockett's bestselling novel set in civil rights-era Mississippi, had its free screening for Academy members at AMPAS's Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Saturday afternoon. According to a member with no stake in the success of the film, it drew an audience that arrived early and filled the 1,000-seat theater to as much as 90 percent capacity, an extremely good showing for a 4 p.m. matinee...Members in attendance "absolutely loved" the film, according to one voter, with substantial applause and no walkouts during the near two-and-a-half hour running time. Another reported that applause was particularly heavy for actresses Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain, but not for director Tate Taylor...It's worth noting, though, that an extremely positive Goldwyn screening is not always a guarantee of Oscar success...for the moment most signs point toward the company nudging Davis toward the Best Actress category, where she'll be competing against her castmate Emma Stone (who has a far smaller chance of a nomination). If they go for the alternative and push her as a Best Supporting Actress nominee, she'll be up against co-star Spencer and maybe a handful of others as well, including Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard. Full Review To Index
08-14-11 The Help Reader Disappointed with Items Missing in the Movie ( The film isn’t bad, not by a long stretch, but I don’t anyone who read the novel will come out thinking they did it justice...This is a 400+ page novel, so obviously details are going to be left out, sometimes ones that are treasured pieces of the story...The change that disappointed me most was the relationship between Minny and her employer, Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain). Celia is an outsider, a white trash woman from a place called Sugar Ditch, MS who got herself pregnant and married to one of the most eligible bachelors in Jackson – and Hilly’s ex-boyfriend to boot. Instead of the multi-dimensional, lovingly sculpted character in the book, this Celia is utilized for the easy laugh. Yes, she’s inappropriate and ridiculous in the novel, but she’s also desperate, and sad, and one of the best white human beings we get to meet. The friendship between her and Minny, and later Celia’s husband Johnny, is also reduced to little more than a vehicle for laughs, when it’s actually heartbreaking and poignant and one of my favorite parts of the story...All of those nitpicks may be due to my love for the novel, and there are plenty of things the movie does well. The performances are well-executed, even breathtaking at times, and I can’t imagine a better cast being assembled...Jessica Chastain, who I’d bet money read the novel, because she understood the complicated Celia even if the audience did not...There is absolutely nothing to complain about as far as the acting in this film. Full Review To Index
08-12-11 Jessica Spectacular in The Help (The New American) Every single actor delivers brilliant performances, but of particular note is that of Jessica Chastain, who plays a young broken-hearted Southern woman, Celia Foote, who, try as she might, just cannot break into Jackson society. She develops an unlikely bond with Minnie, who is so sassy she cannot keep a job. The two, rejected by white Jackson, become each other’s salvation, as Minnie softens to Celia, and Celia becomes dependent on Minnie. Chastain is spectacular in the role. Full Review To Index
08-12-11 Celia's and Minny's Relationship the Most Touching in The Help (Ahwatukee Foothills New) If movies were living, breathing organisms, I'd give "The Help" a big hug...The movie impeccably mixes moments of heartbreak with an abundance of sheer delight, telling an empowering story about race and some of the most strong-willed female characters of recent times. In that sense, "The Help" might be the best movie of it's kind since "The Color Purple."...The most touching relationship in the movie is between Minny and her new employer, a clueless housewife named Celia, played by Jessica Chastain. Between her role as the graceful mother in "The Tree of Life" and her work here, Chastain is easily my choice for breakout actress of the year. In "The Help," Celia starts off as the naïve comedic relief who can't tell her way around a kitchen. As Minny digs deeper into some of the secrets Celia has been keeping from her husband though, she develops into one of year's most tragic and sympathetic characters. Full Review To Index
08-12-11 The Help not a Liberal Guilt Movie (Connect Every summer witnesses the release of a handful of counter-programming efforts, titles designed to satisfy audiences who don't particularly care for superhero sagas or alien adventures or gross-out would be easy to dismiss The Help as yet another "liberal guilt" movie, the sort that's invariably told through the eyes of its Caucasian lead rather than those of its African-American characters. Yet while Skeeter certainly clocks a sizable amount of screen time, it's never in doubt that the true protagonists are Aibileen and Minny, two domestics brought to vivid life through the extraordinary performances by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Many of the conflicts play out as expected, and Bryce Dallas Howard's racist housewife proves to be about as subtle as Cruella De Vil. But interesting subplots abound - I particularly liked the relationship between Minny and her insecure employer Celia Foote, played by The Tree of Life's Jessica Chastain - and with its influx of emotionally wrenching scenes. Full Review To Index
08-11-11 Celia as Moral Centerpiece of The Help Would Have Provided More Emotional Impact (bgdailynews) Howard has some good moments as the film’s main heavy, while Jessica Chastain provides a nice balance as an ostracized housewife who develops a friendship with Minny. If the story had used Chastain’s character as the moral centerpiece instead of Skeeter, I think “The Help” could have had a little more emotional impact. As it is, this is a film that wants to have a say about some serious subjects - ranging from racism to spousal abuse - while at the same time appealing to the masses. To its credit, “The Help” succeeds more on the latter than it does the former, leaving a somewhat effective drama that could have been much more. Full Review To Index
08-11-11 Jessica Steals Every Scene She Plays in The Help (Ology) It must be mentioned that Jessica Chastain (recently seen in Terrence Malick's leaf porn The Tree of Life) steals each and every scene she's in as the ditzy, buxom, but socially shunned rookie housewife Celia Foote. Her burgeoning relationship with the relentlessly candid Minny is the highlight of the film. First-time feature helmer Tate Taylor, whose directorial career seemingly materialized overnight, instantly proves himself adept at jerking tears and getting laughs left and right. See it. You won't be sorry you did. Full Review To Index
08-11-11 The Help a Breathtaking Success (Monterey County Weekly) There are the movie-movie pleasures of The Help, the stuff of simple cinematic entertainment, the stuff we go to the movies for. The magnificent performances. The fresh narrative. The unsentimental direction that lets you feel your own emotions instead dictating them to you. These things aren’t all that hard to do, and yet their rarity – particularly all in one film! – means we should cheer all the harder when we find them.?In other words, see this movie! As straightforward, Hollywood-glossy storytelling-for-your-enjoyment goes, The Help is a breathtaking success...there’s nothing of the chick-flick ghetto here. If movies that are all men and no women can be universal, so can this one. Full Review To Index
08-11-11 Jessica Almost a Sure Thing for Oscar Nomination for The Help ( Based on Kathryn Scokett’s monumentally successful novel, “The Help” is a movie that has throngs of people (mostly women) anxious to see it on the big screen. My prediction is that they won’t be disappointed. “The Help” is an actor’s film, and the cast of this motion picture doesn’t fail. Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis are the real stars of this splendid ensemble effort, playing two maids in white households in Jackson, Mississippi...Viola Davis is a sure thing to be nominated for an Oscar for best actress. Almost a sure thing for an Oscar nomination is Jessica Chastain. She plays a poor girl from a small town who has landed herself one of Jackson’s most eligible young men. Her character is knock-out good-looking, but domestically challenged. She is helped by the character played by Octovia Spencer. Soon Chastain’s character become one of the most poignant in the film as she is banished and embarrassed by the other housewives in Jackson “high society.” Full Review To Index
08-10-11 Octavia and Jessica are the Two Standout Performances in The Help (ropeofsilicon) The film's two standout performances belong to Octavia Spencer as Aibileen's closest friend, Minny Jackson, and Jessica Chastain as the bubbly out-of-towner Celia Foote who's looked at as white trash by the ladies of Jackson after having married one of their men. To this point I've seen Chastain play extremely dramatic characters in The Tree of Life, Take Shelter and The Debt and this was the first time I've truly seen her come to life. She is a breath of fresh air in a film filled with stodgy, uptight women, and the way the story weaves her character in with Minny's is one of the film's highlights. As Minny, Spencer is in a zone. Wide-eyed and fiery, she commands the audience's attention as much as she commands attention within the narrative. Minny is the character you cheer for, laugh with and wish you could sit with over dinner. If Davis and Stone are the heart of this film, Chastain and Spencer are the blood pulsing through it. Full Review To Index
08-10-11 The Story of The Help is Jessica Chastain (MCN) For me, The Story of The Help is Jessica Chastain, who not only steals every scene she gets near with seemingly no effort at all, but set off a big light bulb for me… because it took me a while to figure out it was her...Chastain, in The Help, is a more connected version of Marilyn Monroe. She gets the moments here than Monroe never got… real pain… real desire… all while embodying a goofy white-trash bombshell whose entry in a simple dress turns every head in a room. In The Tree of Life, she is a young Sissy Spacek, perhaps a bit more patrician, a beautiful, loving, woman in a world she doesn’t control, but which she survives with a simple warmth and emotion. In Take Shelter, she dances with Michael Shannon, a reflection of where his character’s mind is going as the story progresses. And in The Debt, as a younger version of the Helen Mirren character, she minds her senior, but also creates a young woman who is both as fragile and as fierce as she must be to do what her character does. You might be able to connect the 3 redheads visually, but it is almost as though her face is different in each of the films. She lets us into the soul of her characters, as though each had a different set of eyes. And there is still Coriolanus due (after premiering at Berlin) at TIFF next month. Chastain and Spencer and Davis and Howard can all be pushed hard for Oscar nominations for this film...And my advice on the film…if you find yourself wanting to go, based on the book or ads or the trailer, go. You will likely be happy you did. If you are turned off by any of that, don’t go. Full Review To Index

Roger Ebert Review
August 9, 2011

Roger Ebert is perhaps the most well known film critic in America. Here are excerpts from Roger Ebert's review as written in his Chicago Sun-Times Journal:

"The Help" is a safe film about a volatile subject. Presenting itself as the story of how African-American maids in the South viewed their employers during Jim Crow days, it is equally the story of how they empowered a young white woman to write a best-seller about them, and how that book transformed the author's mother. We are happy for the two white women, and a third, but as the film ends it is still Jackson, Mississippi and Ross Barnett is still governor.

Still, this is a good film, involving and wonderfully acted. I was drawn into the characters and quite moved, even though all the while I was aware it was a feel-good fable, a story that deals with pain but doesn't care to be that painful...Stone has top billing, but her character seems a familiar type, and the movie is stolen, one scene at a time, by two other characters: Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer).

Both are maids. Aibileen has spent her life as a nanny, raising little white girls. She is very good at it, and genuinely gives them her love, although when they grow up they have an inexorable tendency to turn into their mothers. Minny is a maid who is fired by a local social leader, then hired by a white-trash blonde. Davis and Spencer have such luminous qualities that this becomes their stories, perhaps not entirely by design.

The blonde is Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain, from "The Tree of Life"), who is married to a well-off businessman, is desperate to please him, and knows never learned anything about being a housewife. Minny needs a job, and is happy to work for her. Celia wants her only during the days, when her husband is away, so that he'll think he's eating her cooking and enjoying her housekeeping. Minny helps her with these tasks and many more, some heart-breaking, and fills her with realistic advice. Chastain is unaffected and infectious in her performance.

Celia doesn't listen to Minny's counsel, however, when she attends a big local charity event (for, yes, Hungry African Children), and the event provides the movie's comic centerpiece. Celia's comeuppance doesn't have much to do with the main story, but it gets a lot of big laughs.

Two observations, for what they're worth. All the white people in the movie smoke. None of the black people do. There are several white men with important speaking roles, but only two black men, including a preacher, who have much to say. Full Review To Index

08-09-11 Jessica Explodes off the Screen in The Help (awardsdaily) Here are the standouts for me: 1. Viola Davis — for once she gets an opportunity to really show what she can do as an actress...Davis has been circling the Oscar scene for a while now but she finally might see some gold. 2. Octavia Spencer — this is your more traditional Oscar supporting performance as she all but steals the show. Spencer finds the funny in every scene. She’s great in the quieter scenes too...3. Emma Stone – at first it appears that her character is going to be yet another too-pretty-for-the-part portrayal but Stone’s natural beauty is muted enough here to reveal a more authentic and believable character. She nails the tougher emotional scenes quite well...4. Jessica Chastain – Chastain was not given all that much to do in Tree of Life but in The Help she explodes off the screen as the socially undesirable blonde bombshell. Oscar loves him the dumb blonde, sexually free types so there is a good chance she could earn a nomination instead of the above two. Chastain lets it all hang out emotionally – with a firestorm behind her pasty white skin. Of all of the white characters hers is the most interesting. Otherwise, it seemed like there should be less of the white people and more of the maids. Full Review To Index

08-09-11 The Help is True to the Book (moviefone) Tate Taylor's script, to its credit, stays quite true to the events and characters in the book that worked so well. While certain events have been moved around and some of the finer details are left out, nothing detracted from the movie as a whole. If you're a student who was assigned the book for summer reading, you might miss a couple points here and there, but you could probably just see the movie and still pass the test with ease. (Not that we recommend that!) For the most part, the transfer from the page to the screen couldn't be better...As far as emotional roller coasters are concerned, this one does the novel justice and then some. Reading the book, we got a lump in our throat maybe once or twice over the course of some 500 pages; watching the movie, we were fighting back tears (along with everyone else in the theater) a handful of times over the course of two hours. While Kathryn Stockett did an amazing job of creating these characters in the first place, seeing them in the flesh really drives it all home...Jessica Chastain is utterly delightful as Minny's ditzy employer, Celia Foote...this film is something special. Regardless of your gender or your familiarity with the novel. Full Review To Index
08-09-11? The Help Filled with Great Actresses (Cinema Blend) Sporting some of the greatest actresses, both young and veteran, working in Hollywood today, The Help is stacked from top to bottom. Howard, in playing the film’s central antagonist, is so great that it may end up hurting the actresses’ career as audience members will constantly feel the urge to jump into the screen and punch her character in the face. Octavia Spencer, who plays Aibileen’s best friend, a fellow housekeeper, plays the dramatic and comedic elements of her character perfectly and has an outstanding dynamic with Jessica Chastain, who plays her bubbly, airheaded employer. Sissy Spacek is a scene-stealer as Hilly’s senile mother, Davis finds every note of gravitas in her part and Stone once again proves that she is one of the best young actresses working in film today. There isn’t a single weak link in the entire chain. Full Review To Index
08-09-11 Men Seem to Like The Help (Moviefone) I saw 'The Help' at a daytime screening two weeks ago, and I've never been more grateful to be in possession of a pair of sunglasses than I was when I left the dark theater and emerged into the light. Yes, reader, I cried, and I defy any sentient being among you to get through this film about women and race in the Jim Crow South without doing the same. Not that it's an overwhelming bummer of a film: the insanely talented might-as-well-be-all-female cast -- Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, etc. -- deliver plenty of laughs, and more than a few infuriating shocks to the conscience. I went along for the ride -- all 2 1/2 hours of it... I have yet to meet a single man who has seen the movie and didn't like it. [See video at:] Full Review To Index
08-09-11 Jessica and Two Other Actresses Carry The Help (USA Today) Powered by a strong cast, The Help is a faithful adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's novel. A trio of outstanding performances carry the film on their strong shoulders...Davis and Spencer give pitch-perfect performances...The third noteworthy portrayal is by Jessica Chastain as Celia, a kind-hearted outsider who dresses like a bombshell and is ostracized by the snobbish young women under bossy Hilly's sway. Chastain makes a powerful impression as a fragile young wife hiding a painful secret...The Help sidesteps easy sentimentality. As the film's heart and soul, Davis and Spencer add vast reserves of depth and dignity to a crowd-pleasing tale. Full Review To Index
08-09-11 Jessica is Radiant in The Help (Visalia Times-Delta) You won’t see a more startling and clear-eyed depiction of what it must have been like to live in the Jim Crow South than “The Help.”...But both Aibileen and Missy eventually agree to tell their stories...The stories start to hit close to home for Eugenia, who soon learns the real story of how her family’s maid Constantine (Cicely Tyson) left the family home after decades of service. It’s a heartbreaking moment...Not all the servant’s stories are sad, though. The vibrant and funny Minny starts a touching and eventually deep friendship with Celia (Jessica Chastain), a young bride who hires the woman to teach her how to cook. Their relationship changes both of their lives for the better...Chastain, who was so good in “The Tree of Life” earlier this summer, is radiant as the sweet newlywed. Full Review To Index
08-09-11 The Help Explores Closeness and Hypocrisy of Female Relationships (Enterprise News) If you think the summer has been lacking in sophisticated, adult entertainment, don’t worry, “The Help” is on the way...You’ll get drunk on it, too, as more than a half dozen of Hollywood’s finest actresses intoxicate you with performances superb enough to attract a gentleman caller named Oscar. The only question is which of these Southern belles he’ll smile upon most...On the surface, “The Help” might seem like another treatise on the evils of racism at best and a second coming of “Steel Magnolias” at worst. But if an analogy must be made, I’d say “The Help” is mostly on a par with “Fried Green Tomatoes” in tone and complexity, as it explores the closeness and hypocrisy of female relationships. Racism is really just a sidelight in a story that centers on the commonalities that both white and black women faced in the repressive air that filled the South in the early 1960s. It also questions how much those mores have changed in the 21st century. Mostly, though, this is a rare opportunity to experience a movie brimming with talented actors mellifluously exercising their Southern drawls...Every performance is top-notch, including Spacek as Hilly’s seemingly feeble-minded mama. But the three standouts are Chastain, Davis and Spencer, all delivering Oscar-worthy turns that encompass humor, tragedy and fortitude. Full Review To Index
08-07-11 Jessica and Viola Davis are the Stand Outs in The Help (Screen International) Aimed at loyal chick lit fans and the often receptive audience for inspirational drama, The Help is a nicely cast but otherwise pedestrian adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling 2009 novel about blackmaids and their white employers in the American South of the early sixties...The subject matter won’t help internationally, though there should be at least some interest in the several dozen territories in which the novel has been published...Perhaps trying a bit too hard to respect the source material, writer-director Tate Taylor (a lifelong friend of novelist Hackett whose only previous feature is indie outing Pretty Ugly People) allows the film to meander through a lot of scenes that, while sometimes touching or funny, often feel incidental. The upshot is a lack of dramatic momentum and an unjustified two-and-a-half hour running time. The performances are a mixed bag, with Davis and The Tree of Life’s Jessica Chastain (playing a white social misfit who hires and befriends Minny) standing out. Full Review To Index
07-31-11 The All Female Cast of The Help Appeals to Those Interested in Substantive Fare (Los Angeles Times) A period drama set amid the explosive racial politics of the 1960s South. An all-female ensemble cast. An inexperienced director. It sounds like a recipe for a movie that would send studio executives running. Yet "The Help" — a complex tale of white women and their relationships with the black maids who clean their houses and care for their children — didn't just get made. Arriving in theaters Aug. 10, the DreamWorks film is vying for the attention of audiences more interested in substantive fare as Hollywood begins to shake off the popcorn movies of summer. Full Review To Index
07-13-11 The Help - Oscar Material? (Orlando Sentinel) It’s impossible to predict which movies will catch on with a broad spectrum of the audience and develop awards’ season legs. But “The Help,” Tate Taylor’s adaptation of the Kathryn Stockett novel, has civil rights history and race as its backdrop. The hook, as aspiring journalist interviewing black housemaids in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962-63, is brilliant. It has an un-patronizing yet feel good take on its subject and terrific performances by Viola Davis, Cicely Tyson, Bryce Dallas Howard (Mean mean mean), Jessica Chastain of “Tree of Life” (cheap and blonde), Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer. Full Review To Index
To Index

The Tree of Life

Roger Ebert Review
May 17, 2011

Roger Ebert is perhaps the most well known film critic in America. When Tree of Life premiered at the Cannes Festival on May 16, 2011, reviewers were polarized in their responses. Here are excerpts from Roger Ebert's review of May 16 as written in his Chicago Sun-Times Journal:

Terrence Malick's new film is a form of prayer. It created within me a spiritual awareness, and made me more alert to the awe of existence. I believe it stands free from conventional theologies, although at its end it has images that will evoke them for some people...

Not long after its beginning we apparently see the singularity of the Big Bang, when the universe came into existence. It hurtles through space and time, until it comes gently to a halt in a small Texas town in the 1950s...

Malick sees the time spans of the universe and a human life a lot like I always have. As a child I lay awake obsessed with the idea of infinity and the idea of God, who we were told had no beginning and no end. How could that be? And if you traveled and traveled and traveled through the stars, would you ever get to the last one? Wouldn't there always be one more?...

Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life's experience...

I know the imperfect family life Malick evokes. I know how even good parents sometimes lose their tempers. How children resent what seems to be the unforgivable cruelty of one parent, and the refuge seemingly offered by the other. I know what it is to see your parents having a argument, while you stand invisible on the lawn at dusk and half-hear the words drifting through the open windows. I know the feeling of dread, because when your parents fight, the foundation of your world shakes...

What Malick does in "The Tree of Life" is create the span of lives. Of birth, childhood, the flush of triumph, the anger of belittlement, the poison of resentment, the warmth of forgiving. And he shows that he feels what I feel, that it was all most real when we were first setting out, and that it will never be real in that way again. In the face of Hunter McCracken, who plays Jack as a boy, we see the face of Sean Penn, who plays him as a man. We see fierceness and pain. We see that he hates his father and loves him. When his father has a talk with him and says, "I was a little hard on you sometimes," he says, "It's your house. You can do what you want to." And we realize how those are not words of anger but actually words of forgiveness. Someday he will be the father. It will not be so easy. Full Review To Index

08-25-11 Sean Penn Shares His Confusion Regarding Tree of Life (The Guardian) This week it emerged that Sean Penn seems to have been as mystified by The Tree of Life as the rest of us. "The screenplay is the most magnificent one that I've ever read but I couldn't find that same emotion on screen," said the actor of Terrence Malick's graceful meditation on the meaning of life / unnaturally long ode to self-involvement. "A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact," said Penn. "Frankly, I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context!" Full Review To Index

07-30-11 The Tree of Life: A Hindu Reading (The Hindu) The triumph of Tree of Life lies in its ability to connect with our personal stories. From all that the kids learn growing up, we try to understand ourselves and everything we learnt — through religion, upbringing and textbooks — and the choices we make. It's a deeply meditative film on existence, a prayer of thanksgiving and a paean to motherhood. According to Malick, God is a woman. And the woman is God because she creates, she introduces the child to the way of grace. And Man is the child because he takes time to learn and takes to the way of nature quite early on. Which is why the father repents his actions way later in the film, while the child picks up the way of nature as early as adolescence when he is consumed by lust and experiments with violence...Treat this film as you would treat a visit to the temple. Go with an empty cup and an open mind. Else, just skip and don't ruin it for those who want to pay attention to the God in Malick's detail. Full Review To Index
07-12-11 The Tree of Life: A Buddhist Reading (Religion Dispatches) By suggesting we see Tree of Life not in terms of a dualistic choice, but as a “middle way,” I also mean to trigger a Buddhist sensibility to the film that runs alongside the more overtly Christian one. There is no space to develop a full account of this here, but it is worth mentioning that a “Buddhist reading” is entirely plausible...Beyond the style, I mention here one curious relation to the narrative of Buddhism’s origins. The Life of the Buddha tells of Siddhartha’s young existence as a prince, living in a kingdom of earthly delights. At one point in his life, he travels beyond the palace walls, and there has his “four visions.” He sees an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and an ascetic. These radically change his life, becoming the sparks that lead to the renunciation of his old life and begin his spiritual journey. In Tree of Life, there are a couple key encapsulating scenes experienced by both Jack and R.L., and both scenes take place outside their own neighborhood. One day, as they walk through their downtown, they imitate drunken men stumbling out on the street, laughing as they go. And then they walk past a palsied man, crippling across the street. We half think (and fear) the boys might imitate him too, but they don’t. They are bewildered, and the image sinks into their minds. The way the scene is shot makes it clear they are not being “polite” (as in having been previously told that “its not nice to make fun of other people”) but they are genuinely confronted with an image of something they can’t quite register based on past experiences. Another scene shows a boy who has drowned in the nearby public pool, his lifeless body laid on the side as the boys gaze on, clearly trying to make sense of it. No further comment is made. Full Review To Index
07-12-11 Pitt, Penn, McCracken, and Jessica Chastain Perform Well (The Gateway Online) While Brad Pitt receives top billing and does a fine job as a strict but loving father, it’s Hunter McCracken playing the child version of Jack who is the film’s emotional core. Bearing a striking resemblance to his adult counterpart Sean Penn, McCracken remains quiet but assured throughout most scenes, while bursting with rage in some startling moments. Newcomer Jessica Chastain is equally as impressive, providing a fully fleshed-out character, despite having very little dialogue. Full Review To Index
07-07-11 Tree of Life is Paean to the Lost Eden of One's Youth ( The Tree of Life is nothing less than a masterly tone poem in which Malick and his acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have created a heart-rending paean to the lost Eden of one's youth. Full Review To Index
07-07-11 Lack of Dialogue in Tree of Life Unfortunate for Jessica ( Malick’s ideas about beauty don’t really extend to language; his film, though lasting 138 minutes, has very little dialogue as if to preclude the possibility that humans have the power to create meaning through words. This is especially unfortunate for Jessica Chastain who, pale-skinned and pre-Raphaelite-haired, embodies an archetypal femininity that requires her to do little more than smile serenely, attend to her children, and be more angel than mother. Full Review To Index
07-05-11 The Tree of Life is a Captivating Masterwork ( Labeling his style as "not for everyone" has become a cliché, but the manner in which he approaches filmmaking is different, and more ambitious than just about any other director alive. The marriage of visuals and music left me in awe. Malick is a visionary and a poet and The Tree of Life is a captivating masterwork. It seems that oftentimes when people do not fully understand something, instead of trying to learn more, they react harshly to its nature...The Tree of Life is not intended to be baffling, it just might need to be viewed multiple times to appreciate all of its underlying secrets. Terrence Malick should be compared to Stanley Kubrick because both approached their craft with similar attitudes and desires. Both valued their privacy, supplied the final cut they wanted, and left it at that. There are many similarities, but the primary one is that both Kubrick and Malick divided audiences with almost every new release. Yet as the years roll by, the polarizing feedback started to change, and the mixed reception of a film transitions into describing it as just a classic...when it was finally released at the 2011 Cannes Film festival, the media promptly announced that boos were heard with counter applause. Anyone familiar with the Cannes crowd knows that this is a yearly reaction, and Malick fans, including myself, took that news and our anticipating for The Tree of Life only increased. Full Review To Index
07-05-11 The Tree of Life is about Evolution in Various Forms ( In essence, The Tree of Life is about evolution in various forms, whether it be an enormous planet or a school boy from a country town. The idea is that the cycle repeats in various inimitable embodiments. There is a creation of the Earth sequence that goes on to illustrate the beginning of life itself, the dinosaur period, and the era before man. This particular interlude is the source of the majority of the disputes, as some have made the absurd comment that what's on screen belongs on the Discovery channel. I do think this broadens the meaning of the film and causes us to admire our place in the universe by observing how our species has evolved, and by glimpsing Jack's personal coming-of-age saga. This portrait of one seemingly normal family, is the nucleus, but is bookended by larger truths of space and time and spirituality. One of the best moments occurs when the camera rests on a beach near a stream, where a Parasaurolophus is lying, severely wounded. Soon a young Troodon (picture a Raptor) wanders by and notices the injured dinosaur. He looks and places his foot on its neck, getting ready to kill his prey. After reconsidering, and observing that the Parasaurolophus is helpless, the Troodon scampers away. There is of course no dialogue during this scene, except for the vivid sounds of the dinosaurs' movements and the flowing water, but the impact it leaves is unbelievable, and I cannot remember a more seamless integration of special effects. At no point did I contemplate the CGI. These dinosaurs appeared as real as any modern animal, as if Malick magically obtained this suspenseful rendezvous from the past. Full Review To Index
06-30-11 Tree of Life: the Final Act Brings it All Home (Herald Sun) This is a movie where mood is all that matters. And what meaning can be drawn from that mood will vary wildly from one person to the next. Patience above and beyond the call of duty is unapologetically demanded. And for at least two-thirds of The Tree of Life - where the film's abilities to becalm and bewilder all but cancel each other out - the worry remains that we are being led down a scenic road to nowhere. All I can say is hang in there. The final act, which includes a depiction of the afterlife as genuinely moving as any mind could conjure, brings it all home with an intensity of emotion that is undeniable. Full Review To Index
06-30-11 Not All Appreciate Tree of Life (Palm Beach Post) While cinephiles delight in deciphering the complexities of Terrence Malick’s new film, The Tree of Life, movie theaters across the country are dealing with something else: a steady stream of walkouts. I counted 12 to 15 people leaving a showing I attended last weekend at the Cobb Jupiter 18 theater. A colleague at another screening counted 17. At a Connecticut art-house theater, enough people were asking for refunds, which the theater does not permit, that management posted this notice: "We would like to take this opportunity to remind patrons that The Tree of Life is a uniquely visionary and deeply philosophical film from an auteur director. It does not follow a traditional, linear narrative approach to storytelling."...Here’s the important thing to remember: For the small number of people drifting out, most of the audiences are staying. Full Review To Index
06-26-11 Tree of Life Best or Worst Movie Ever Made? ( Some people say that it's the "worst movie ever made", which is obnoxious and completely ridiculous. Really, it's the worst movie ever? Just because it's unconventional? The beautiful images, at least, don't score any points with you? On the other end of the spectrum, I hear that it'll "change your life" or that it's "what cinema is made for", which is also crazy. The Tree of Life is not film at its very best, but rather simply film doing something different...if it fundamentally alters the way you think about the world we live in, chances are you never really thought about it before to begin with. No...but it is a great film and more importantly an interesting film and one worth seeing and sitting through, perhaps more than once. Full Review To Index
06-23-11 Tree of Life is not Entertainment - It is Art (Buffalo News) “The Tree of Life” is not entertainment in any ordinary Hollywood way, conventional or unconventional. It is art. To put it another way, it is not the equivalent of a novel or a novella or a short story, as most films are. It isn’t prose. It’s narrative poetry. If you want to find Malick’s closest artistic brothers and sisters, you probably shouldn’t look at other filmmakers or musicians, or even painters. Try Robert Browning and Alfred Lord Tennyson. It isn’t necessary to know your Browning or Tennyson to see the film, but you do have to understand that the movie you’re seeing is for another, much larger, version of yourself than the one you’re used to bringing into movie houses. Full Review To Index
06-22-11 Comparison of Tree of Life to 2001 is Superficial (San Antonio Current) The Tree of Life [is] a film bracketed by nothing less than the inception and the end of a universe of suffering...This epic observance of Old Testament pangs and New Age panacea, shared by recovering addicts of all kinds, to literally “Let go and let God,” has been compared to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; the superficial similarities might be that both pictures are long, used the services of chief special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull (who hadn’t worked in three decades), have a score that invites similarities to Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and have the audacity to point to where its protagonists are going and where they have been. But if there is a starchild in The Tree of Life, he is not in some evolved last stage of pure thought, but in the very human child you can hold and touch right now. Full Review To Index
06-18-11 Sydney Film Festival Tree of Life Review (Flickering Myth) In my opinion there are going to be two types of people in this world, people who will love this film and people who don’t and I’m firmly in the former...All of the actors are effortlessly moving...The real surprise asset of this film is young Jack (Hunter McCracken). We spend a substantial amount of time with young Jack (McCracken) and he demonstrates the capacity to absorb Penn’s aura and project his mannerisms to echo the gravitas of Jack in later life...In formulating an impression of the beginning of the world and asking questions about life invariably the topic of spirituality comes up. The Tree of Life is spiritually ambiguous. The O’Brien family is religious but I think that the mother character sees her God (via Malick’s perspective) not in a church or in prayer but in nature and every aspect of life - especially her children...Malick has truly out done himself with The Tree of Life. Sometimes there are significant films that resonate with you; that swirl their images around you mind; that etch themselves to the insides of your eyelids so that they are inescapable; that cause great debate and impassioned love and fiery hate. The Tree of Life is a signpost,; it’s a chapter title; its an important, significant, poetic, beautiful film. Full Review To Index
06-17-11 How Tree of Life is Polarizing (Journal & Topics Newspapers Online) In its most subtle ways, "The Tree of Life" evokes feelings of depth that other films try in vain to accomplish by putting the pedal to the metal. No, the best way to draw evocative feelings is to do as little as possible - as say in "2001: A Space Odyssey." Once there, it is up to you to either take the plunge and accept the film's mythology - or pull back and sit there in stunned silence. "The Tree of Life" has that kind of polarizing effect - and writer/director Terrence Malick challenges you to open your eyes, ears, mind, heart and faith to his images and words - or have a miserable time waiting for it to come to a boring ending. "The Tree of Life" is a cinematic journey into a realm of your consciousness and the outer boundaries of your imagination...You don't need to connect all the dots for this film to have an impact on you - and it doesn't need to be completely understood to enjoy it. You must go with the flow and gather what you can to try and understand what you think the director is aiming at. But it is necessary for the film to have symmetry and have a firm anchor at the end in order to achieve emotional closure...certainly Oscar worthy. Full Review To Index
06-10-11 Jessica Chastain Leads the Tree of Life Cast ( While Brad Pitt played the domineering father well, a personality the actor admitted differed greatly from his own parenting, Jessica Chastain truly led the cast. She personified grace incarnate, no doubt aided by her past dance experiences, her movements working well with the camera and balancing the energy of her three boyish co-stars. Despite this being their first film, the boys acted as one would expect of professionals. While McCracken held more screen time and showed a fire in his eyes, Laramie Eppler also impressed in his depth and range of emotion. Full Review To Index
06-03-11 The Tree of Life Vividly Replicates the Way We Remember (San Francisco Chronicle) "The Tree of Life"...contains some of the most psychologically insightful and ecstatic filmmaking imaginable. Malick shows you the world that you know, but he shows it in such a fever that you see it, not differently, but completely. It's a vision so alive to the mystery in everything that the simple depiction of a man walking into an office building feels like a feast of limitless possibility and geometric variety. To see "The Tree of Life" is to wish you could go through life seeing things in this way. There would be no fear of death because each moment would be so full as to contain lifetimes...It's as if we're seeing a dream of the past and hearing mental vibrations that, either randomly or because of their particular strength, happened to survive time. The feeling is one of privilege, to be picking up on precious currents of consciousness, seemingly lost to the world. At its most basic, "The Tree of Life" vividly replicates, in cinematic terms, the way we remember. There are general memories, moods and sensations, and then there are incidents and bits of conversation that are recalled with absolute present-tense lucidity. Full Review To Index
05-27-11 How Will Christians Respond to Biblical Themes in Tree of Life? (Christian Post) “The Tree of Life” has been lauded by many Christians for carrying Biblical themes, yet at the same time it divides believers for that very reason. What exactly do the themes mean? What does a 1950s devout Christian family have to do with the dinosaur era and an influx of a symphonic celestial intermission? The impressionistic film – starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and newcomer Jessica Chastain – opens with a quote from the book of Job...We witness the 160 million year period from when dinosaurs reigned the planet to the point of their extinction. The question of life forces the audience to wonder, how are human beings different? What is the meaning of it all when everything is created to die?...The complexities of the film and the slow plot make it difficult for the general audience to truly understand the Biblical narrative...It will leave viewers, just like most critics, with more questions than answers. Full Review To Index
05-27-11 Tree of Life Leaves Viewers in Awe ( Though the summer season is in full force this weekend with The Hangover Part II and Kung Fu Panda 2 poised to make over $100 million each, it is Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life that will leave viewers the most awed. With spectacle ranging from sumptuous images of the beginning and end of the universe to brief glimpses of evolution on earth and even dinosaurs as well as touches of magical realism, this film is an epic tonal poem that left me speechless. My eyes ached because I didn’t want to blink for fear of missing even one moment. After the film, I stumbled out into the streets of Los Angeles and walked for eight miles, contemplating what I had just seen. Full Review To Index
05-26-11 Tree of Life is the Culmination of Everything Terrence Malick Has Done Until Now (The Canadian Press) This is unlike anything you've ever seen before. And yet it's very much the culmination of everything Terrence Malick has done until now — all four features he's made over the past four decades. All his thematic and esthetic signatures are there from earlier films like "Badlands" and "The Thin Red Line": the dreamlike yet precise details, an obsession with both the metaphysical and the emotional, an ability to create suspense within a languid mood. It is simultaneously mesmerizing and maddening as it encompasses nothing less than the nature of existence itself..."The Tree of Life" is deeply spiritual, but Malick isn't one to preach. Instead, he gives you the sense that he's genuinely asking questions to which the answers may be unknowable — he's putting them out there for himself, and for us all. Full Review To Index
05-25-11 Reviewer Describes Tree of Life (NPR) "Once it started, you felt the audience kind of divide. Some people really couldn't stand it and other people found it transformative. It's a story about a young boy, who grows up to be Sean Penn later, growing up in '50s Texas. His parents are played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. About 90 minutes of the movie is the story of this kid's life, growing up during his young years in Texas. What makes the film strange is it's surrounded by two other things. On the one thing, there's a kind of 2001-ish story of the creation of the world, which I think is designed to parallel the creation of this one person's life. But that comes complete with the creation of the planet and with dinosaurs and all the rest which is kind of odd for a film about Texas in the 1950s. And then the film builds to another non-narrative thing — a dreamy, searcher New Age sequence — where Sean Penn, dressed in a business suit, walks across Death Valley, and maybe or maybe not — it's not clear from the film, exactly — winds up in Heaven, where he ends up meeting all of the people he'd known before. So what you have is a rather beautiful, poetic and normal story of a family in Texas surrounded by stuff that some people thought visionary and other people thought kitsch." Full Review To Index
05-25-11 Malick Has a Painter's Eye and a Philosopher's Mind (Bloomberg) The highlight of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” is an 18-minute montage of galloping dinosaurs, exploding volcanoes, floating amoebas, majestic rainbows, wriggling jellyfish and a giant meteor hurtling through space. Not a single person or human voice interrupts the kaleidoscopic flow. It’s a perfect reflection of Malick’s eccentric filmmaking style, one that emphasizes mood and images over plot and drama. Malick has a painter’s eye and a philosopher’s mind. In movies such as “Days of Heaven” and “The New World,” characters take a backseat to nature and story lines zigzag like a car sliding on ice. “The Tree of Life,” only his fifth feature in 38 years, may be his most elusive and beautiful. Full Review To Index
05-22-11 Tree of Life: Massive Visionary Ambition and Vaporous Religiose Balderdash (The Independent) The Tree of Life. Fans awaited it as the Second Coming and Malick may have been thinking along the same lines. The Tree of Life is the story of a Texan family over several decades, with Brad Pitt as an authoritarian dad and newcomer Jessica Chastain as a mother who talks to God in voice-over and levitates in her back yard. But it's also the story of Creation itself, from the Big Bang, through the dinosaurs – yes, there are dinosaurs – to the afterlife, where you get to hug your mom and pop on the beach. It is unarguably a work of massive visionary ambition – and at the same time, vaporous religiose balderdash, a film that Stanley Kubrick might have made if he'd been an evangelical preacher. Part cinematic symphony, part cathedral, part Norman Rockwell greeting card, The Tree of Life is spiritually coercive and very unpalatable. I don't think it was just the atheists who were booing at the press show. Full Review To Index
05-21-11 The Tree of Life Counts (Boston Globe) I think “The Tree of Life’’ counts. The movie opens with a quotation from the Book of Job, which means bring your allegorical weight belt. It’s heavy yet light, staggeringly ambitious yet hermetically personal, a triumph and a failure. After opening with his characteristic swirl of hovering, dangling camerawork (Emmanuel Luzbecki shot it) and images that well up your eyes, a break is taken from pensive voiceovers (“Mother? Brother?’’) and obscurely knotted domestic ellipses (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain mourning a dead son in the 1950s; Sean Penn mourning a brother in some approximation of the present) to offer a Big Bang planetarium afternoon. It’s some show. You just wait for Malick to give it some heft or connection — or to just keep going with it. But he skips millions of years ahead to the saga of three boys being raised by Pitt’s tough former Navy officer turned industry captain in Waco, Texas. It feels holy and searching and remembered and cowed by God— and yet medicinally scientific, too. This is a work of art by a man who, while having lost touch with reality, is aching to arrive at some understanding of himself. Malick must, at least, be met on the terms of seriousness and his ambition. Full Review To Index
05-20-11 Tree of Life is Rare American Art (Boston Globe) Of the 20 films in competition for the prestigious Palme d’Or, only two — “Drive,’’ by Danish-born Nicolas Winding Refn, and “The Tree of Life,’’ by Terrence Malick — are listed as American...Two days ago, in line for a movie, Amy Taubin, a contributing editor at Film Comment magazine, remarked that Americans no longer make art, they make independent movies...“The art movie is what used to come to Sundance,’’ Taubin said. “They were interested in form. Then the studios discovered that those movies don’t make money...So what began as filmmakers taking risks has become a landscape of filmmaking that avoids risk in order to stick to formulas that work commercially....It certainly isn’t the case with “The Tree of Life,’’ which is the sort of huge and hugely anticipated movie that almost never comes out of America now. The premiere here Tuesday morning incited the most pre-screening frenzy and loudest post-screening jeers, which in my experience means Malick has done something at least partially’s increasingly rare for an American director to attempt a huge movie with majestic images and big ideas. “The Tree of Life’’ re-creates the Big Bang, has a dinosaur or two, and spends a lot of time in the fray with rambunctious boys growing up in 1950s’s impossible to leave the theater less than fully aware that the movie’s real star is Malick. Full Review To Index
05-19-11 Jessica is The Tree of Life's Ethereal Mother Figure (Houston Chronicle) Filmed in Smithville and Houston, Brad Pitt delivers one of the most memorable performances of his career as the movie's thwarted, authoritarian father. But it's The Tree of Life's ethereal mother figure - played by a nearly wordless Jessica Chastain - who emerges as the film's valorized moral center, a paragon of the spiritual grace her grown son (Sean Penn) and the filmmaker clearly long for. Full Review To Index
05-19-11 Is Tree of Life the 2001 of 2011? ( The Tree of Life features Sean Penn as a man looking back on his youth, spent in a small Texas town in the 1950s with his two brothers, their loving mother (Jessica Chastain, the film’s revelation) and their strict father (Pitt, solid as always). Through this impressionistic family chronicle, Malick simultaneously depicts the origins of the world – Big Bang and dinosaurs included! A stunning visual spectacle, The Tree of Life clearly bears the mark of its brilliant and meticulous creator (the voiceover narration, the incantatory dialogue, the lyrical images, the communion with nature), but during the last stretch, we come dangerously close to losing interest in this mystical and metaphysical fable. The 2001 of 2011? Full Review To Index
05-18-11 Reviewer Did not Feel the Immense Cinematic Experience She Hoped For in Tree of Life (Flagpole Magazine) I was surprised I made it into Tree of Life, because there were more sign holders than there were ticket holders. Once I had the shiny ticket in hand, my hopes for the film rose even higher, and sadly, I was let down. I expected a beautiful elaboration of the trailer I had seen, and instead, I was just replayed the same preview, except on a bigger screen. The images of the universe were large, and the voice-over was nothing short of dramatic, but I did not feel the immense cinematic experience that I’d hoped for. Once the film started to focus on the narrative, I became more interested. The three brothers who play the sons of Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) were perfect in their roles. Full Review To Index
05-18-11 Tree of Life Characters Speak to God Rather than to Each Other (Mid Columbia Tri City Herald) The only American entry in the top category, The Tree of Life marks a long-awaited return for prior winner Malick (Best Director, 1979's Days of Heaven). Starring Brad Pitt as a 1950's patriarch who believes in rigid discipline above all, he and Jessica Chastain's muted housewife raise their three boys in a perfectly-depicted Texas suburb. The costumes, lighting and production values are so evocative, you can almost feel the summer's nighttime humidity closing in. But just as the drama heats up between the family members, whoosh, we're spirited away by a spectral light show into worlds prehistoric and fantastical. Doggie dinosaurs crouch in lush forests. There's a planet. A cave. Amoebas mate. Water rushes. Think a gorgeously photographed show at the local planetarium. Seriously. Now consider yourself trapped in said nature show for 1.5 of the 2.5 hours. Since this is the The Tree of Life, then, darn it, we're going to explore every limb since time immemorial. Malick scrambles the concept of story, his characters whispering voice-over prayers up to God rather than dealing with each other. We want to pray as well, begging Malick to reconsider. To let us spend some time with what looks to be some fascinating characters. But no ... there's some rain falling over here, or a sunflower growing over there ... obviously much too riveting to miss. * Rating on a scale of 5 trees falling in the forest: 2. Full Review To Index
05-17-11 Dismissive Review of Tree of Life (RFI) Few cheers and a lot of jeers followed the showing of director Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, a two-hour mishmash of three different stories with very little in common. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain are Mr and Mrs O’Brien, a couple raising their three children in Waco, Texas, in the 1950s. The flashbacks come as their eldest - played by Sean Penn, who is probably on the screen a total of five minutes - looks back on his childhood and wonders about the meaning of life. In between, bring on the dinosaurs! Quixotically Malick decided to break up the two stories with a 15-minute shot of the cosmos, complete with rich orchestration...Some journalists were upset that Malick, a known recluse, didn’t show his face...Ultimately, the best thing about the film was the fact that the king and queen of Hollywood, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, aka Brangelina, walked the red carpet for the premiere. Full Review To Index
05-16-11 Most Helpful Tree of Life Review So Far [Part One] (Hollywood Reporter) This fifth feature in Terrence Malick’s eccentric four-decade career is a beauteous creation that ponders the imponderables, asks the questions that religious and thoughtful people have posed for millennia and provokes expansive philosophical musings along with intense personal introspection. As such, it is hardly a movie for the masses and will polarize even buffs, some of whom might fail to grasp the connection between the depiction of the beginnings of life on Earth and the travails of a 1950s Texas family. But there are great, heady things here, both obvious and evanescent, more than enough to qualify this as an exceptional and major film...Life is shaped in an unconventional way, not as a narrative with normal character arcs and dramatic tension but more like a symphony with several movements -- each expressive of its own natural phenomena and moods. Arguably, music plays a much more important role here than do words (there is some voice-over but scarcely any dialogue at all for nearly an hour) whereas the soaring, sometimes grandiose soundtrack...dominates in the way it often did in Stanley Kubrick’s work. Indeed, this comparison is inevitable, as Life is destined to be endlessly likened to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Full Review To Index
05-16-11 Most Helpful Tree of Life Review So Far [Part Two] (Hollywood Reporter) Much of the early going is devoted to spectacular footage of massive natural phenomena, both in space and on Earth: gaseous masses, light and matter in motion, volcanic explosions, fire and water, the creation and growth of cells and organisms, eventually the evolution of jellyfish and even dinosaurs, represented briefly by stunningly realistic creatures, one of which oddly appears to express compassion for another. Juxtaposed with this are the lamentations of a mother (Jessica Chastain) for a son who has just died in unexplained circumstances....Life gets the balance of its extraordinary dual perspective between the cosmic and the momentary remarkably right, which holds it together even during its occasional uncertain stretches. Least effective is the contemporary framing material centered on the oldest O’Brien kid, Jack, portrayed as a middle-aged man by Sean Penn...the picture builds to unanticipated levels of disappointment and tragedy, much of it expressed with a minimum of dialogue in the final stages of Pitt’s terrific performance...Voice-over snippets suggestive of states of mind register more importantly than dialogue, and both are trumped by the diverse musical elements and the rumblings and murmurs of nature, which have all been blended in a masterful sound mix. Emmanuel Lubezki outdoes himself with cinematography of almost unimaginable crispness and luminosity. Full Review To Index
05-16-11 Tree of Life Elicits a Wide Range of Opinion (Metro Canada - Ottawa) Terrence Malick lived up to both his public and professional reputation Monday at the Cannes Film Festival, remaining out of sight while premiering a film that left crowds buzzing over its thematic scope, emotional depth and visual grandeur...The film starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain drew a scattering of harsh, prolonged boos, answered by enthusiastic applause from others at the press screening...he skipped the Cannes press conference that followed Monday's screening, leaving Pitt, Chastain and his producers to face reporters. "Mr. Malick is very shy, and I would say that I believe his work speaks for itself," producer Sarah Green said. Pitt compared Malick's attitude toward publicizing a film to building a house. "I don't know why it's accepted that people who make things in our business are then expected to sell them, and I don't think that computes with him," said Pitt...Malick is known for making films that defy classification...The richly personal drama is told in a vast reach of impressionistic exchanges and images: from breathtaking views of the universe's creation to primordial scenes in the age of the dinosaurs to tender and terrifying family moments. The dreamlike images are accompanied by poetic voiceovers as characters ponder the universe, wonder if God exists and offer small pleas or questions to him. "Lord, why? Where were you?" Chastain's character laments after tragedy strikes. "Who are we to you? Answer me."...Some at Cannes found it all deeply moving. Others said Malick went over the top. Full Review To Index
05-16-11 Tree of Life Requires Reflection and Digestion (TheWrap) Terrence Malick’s eagerly awaited "The Tree of Life" was held in rapt attention when it screened in Cannes this morning. But when the credits rolled it was greeted with boos and applause, as is sometimes the case with more challenging films here. There is little doubt that the film is a disappointment to those who were expecting something maybe a little less “thin.” You probably aren't going to hear the word "masterpiece" thrown around much. All are in agreement about how beautiful it is to look at and how well the film was made. It’s worth seeing for the cinematography alone. Having gotten the bad news out of the way early, let me say that I am not nearly willing to dismiss "Tree of Life" because it was hard to digest in one go. I look forward to ruminating on it over the next ten years...It seems to me Malick was getting to something about his own evolution as a man, mortality, religion, the afterlife - what is it to be born? What is it to die? The film offers up no answers to these questions...Watching the film is at times like being in a religious service, walking through an art gallery, meditating, listening to a poetry reading or dreaming. To that end, it is like a psychic caress. It’s one of the most soothing works you’ll see here. It soothes the soul, even if it doesn’t exactly engage the brain. The reaction has so far been mixed with bloggers and critics. Some want to think about it more before coming to a conclusion - others feel it was repetitive and said everything it needed to say in its first breathtaking hour. Full Review To Index
05-16-11 Tree of Life is Too Obtuse (Film School Rejects) One of the problems for The Tree of Life is that it is too knowingly obtuse: the obvious idea of the film is that the we share in the O’Brien’s quest to unravel meaning in their lives through an evaluation of themselves, their relationships and their relation to nature and the grander canvas of the universe, but without a sufficient guiding influence, it becomes far too easy to simply drift along through the images Malick has so painstakingly compiled without being able to relate to or engage with his premise. For the majority of The Tree of Life, Malick is less a film-maker than a magpie of spectacular images, which are in themselves very impressive (and will no doubt form the basis of all the positive reviews it gets), but they are so disjointed and alien...Perhaps it is both, but the cold, clinical precision of the scenes lends itself only to detachment, and when the revelation finally comes that this is one of the ways that the adult Jack O’Brien discovers the meaning of life, it inspires nothing much more than acknowledgment...if you’re like me there’s not much in the scenes for you apart from a few “ooooo”s in between the various “eh?”s...The mid-section of the film, in which the O’Brien’s 1950s life is recounted is just as gorgeous as the visuals of the Earth beginning, but here there is far more to latch on to in terms of engagement. This is essentially the substance of the film: a portrait of family life seen through the eyes of a child...the astronomical and evolutionary scenes are too labored, too blatant and too insistent that they cloud the meaning rather than add to it...Pitt, Chastaine and McCracken’s performances are great, and the score is exceptional. And of course, the aesthetic merits of the film could never have been in doubt, and don’t disappoint. Full Review To Index
05-16-11 Applause Overcomes Boos for Tree of Life ( Brad Pitt, as always, is incredible in his role as Mr O'Brien. It is a change for him to play a character that is not quite evil, but ruthless and tough - especially towards children. Jessica Chastain is haunting as Mrs O'Brien and her gentle and nurturing character is the perfect foil for Pitt's more abrasive one...The people that booed loudly at the end of the screening, were quickly drowned out by the applause of those of us who were not quite sure what we had seen, but we knew we loved it. Critics are already calling the movie pretentious and self absorbed, but we, here at loved it, and we recommend that you avoid the reviews, and make your own mind up. The Tree of Life was not the only movie shown on the Croisette today, but it was definitely the one that everyone was talking about. Full Review To Index
05-16-11 First Tree of Life Reviews from Cannes: Mixed (Hollywood Reporter) The Palais' Lumiere Theatre was packed full of press, who pushed and shoved to secure a seat for the 8:30 a.m. screening that marked the official bow of the movie...And even before the final credits rolled on the elusive director’s 138-minute meditation on the meaning of life, the rush to judgment began. With the film’s final, ambiguous image still lingering on the screen, a number of vociferous boos rained down from the balcony, while scattered applause broke out on the floor of the festival’s main theater...Sean Penn is seen, relatively briefly, in framing sections as one of their sons, grown up, troubled, and wandering through high rises in Houston. And then there is also a magisterial detour into a section that recreates the origins of the universe and the creation of planet earth, with a stop along the way for a fleeting glimpse of some dinosaurs. First reactions came in a rat-a-tat volley of tweets. “Tree of Life just ended, and it’s a very sad and beautiful...wank? The ultimate refutation of narrative? An interminable tone poem?,” tweeted Hollywood Elsewhere columnist Jeffrey Wells. Proclaimed Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, “If the cosmic astronaut god-baby at the end of 2001 could come back to Earth and make a movie? It would pretty much be Tree of Life.”...As more substantive reviews began to issue forth, the tone turned more positive. Calling the movie “mad and magnificent,” the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw wrote,”This film is not for everyone....But this is visionary cinema on an unashamedly huge scale.” The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy noted that it is an “exceptional and major film” but is “hardly a movie for the masses and will polarize.” Full Review To Index
05-16-11 Miffed at Tree of Life Director but Haunted by Movie (MailOnLine) Brad Pitt's art house movie The Tree of Life was greeted to a harsh chorus of boos, hisses and reluctant applause when it was unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival. The picture's director Terrence Malick didn't even bother to turn up at the press conference following a screening that started at 8.30am. Such a move is considered bad manners. No matter how shy you are for in Cannes you show up and face the music. It was left to Brad Pitt as lead actor and producer to lead a team that included leading actress Jessica Chastain, and various other production executives Dede Gardner, Sarah Green, Grant Hill and Bill Pohlad. The two hour 18 minute picture is, essentially, a visual poem about love, life, death, evolution and erupting volcanoes. It's a meditation on grace and nature and, as with all Malick films, it's deeply personal...I'm quite haunted by it and I take my hat off to Pitt for backing it with his own money. Full Review To Index
04-29-11 First Review of The Tree of Life (with extensive production notes) (The Film Stage) With less than a month to go before Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life hits theaters, the first official review has landed, and it is quite positive. Sprouting from the French site Les Echos du Cinéma, we have a translation below from an IMDb user. They praise the film for its natural performances and beauty, but call out its Christian tones..."After the screening, we stay there, frozen in our seat, and we understand we can not blame the film because it is beautiful, even sublime and very moving. The scenario is the antiplot, there is no conflict, and the meaning of the film, heavily assen, eludes analysis and discussion. This is a Spielbergian movie in a way, but deeper and more beautiful. The actors are more real than real, the direction of Malick shows them in a totally natural that makes us forget the fiction. The images mesmerize us with their strength and poetry they inspire. But that is not there. The best part is that you’ll find your feelings of childhood like never before in film. You’ll see, laugh, run, grow and marvel as the child you were. You will literally discover the world…Grace is all that matters for Malick. To choose grace rather than nature is the conflict within Jack. Love and forgive means choosing grace. To create beauty, but also tend toward grace. Hardness, violence, profit is the way of nature. Only the relationship between nature and man, he is talking about the human soul, of God and love between men. There is a new dimension of cosmic order and we are witnessing the birth of the universe...we see the first dinosaurs that look much better than the ones in Jurassic Park. Full Review To Index
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05-01-11 Jessica is Convincing in Jolene Blu-ray (JustPressPlay) Jolene will sneak up on you. What starts as a strange film, with hammy performances that seem to verge on parody, becomes a provocative and devastating viewing experience. With a career making turn for Jessica Chastain and a stunning supporting cast, the film is a modern epic, chronicling ten years in the early adult life of an orphan. To say the film delivers is an understatement and to say it’s anything less than a staggering achievement would be a bald-faced lie...When the end credits roll, one feels they’ve seen a series of mini-movies, wholly separate from one another, instead of one continuous story. While this structure could ruin most projects, Jolene rises to the occasion with the strength of its central character and the clear precision of the storytelling...The ending is too incredible to divulge and will melt even the most cynical heart...Chastain dares to look stupid, unconcerned with the obvious weakness of her character at moments, unwilling to show anything but the pure truth of Jolene built gradually through her journey. She is as convincing as a teenager as she is at the movie’s end, ten years later. Hollywood needs more talent of her caliber...Blu-ray Bonus Features. Beyond the usual, there is a nice selection of interviews to wade through...The director’s scene specific commentary is fascinating. Full Review To Index
04-24-11 Jolene DVD Review ( Jolene is portrayed by Jessica Chastain, a stunning redhead with the old-school looks of a classic movie star. It’s no wonder that men keep making her offers she can’t refuse...I’ve always been a fan of Ireland—who was born and raised in Vancouver before going on to make such heartfelt films as The Whole Wide World and Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont . So I wish I could afford to be charitable. But despite Chastain’s undeniable presence, the story falls flat. After a while, I felt like I was being forced to watch a bunch of stupid, selfish, losers screw up their lives. Full Review To Index
11-04-10 Jolene Draws Compassion from Some; Dismay of Others (Seattle Times) Chastain proves near-heroic embodying Jolene's innate strength and incremental wisdom. Yet she also makes us understand how the heroine's wobbly resistance to manipulative characters is overwhelmed time and again. In an episodic story with ever-shifting environments and visual palettes (rural South Carolina, Phoenix, Tulsa, Southern California), Jolene's red hair is the constant torch of an irrepressible, even artistic spirit...Ireland, co-founder of the Seattle International Film Festival, knows Jolene will draw compassion from some viewers and the dismay of others irked by her poor judgment. Fair enough. The director encourages our honest, involved responses. Jolene's journey ultimately speaks for itself. The film's final chapter, cleverly set in Hollywood, recasts her story in profound terms of classic American self-invention. Full Review To Index
10-29-10 Jessica Portrays Jolene's 10-Year Journey Like a Pro (Movieline) Jolene...ultimately amounts to an overlong, vaguely undisciplined, sporadically trite and obvious bit of road-trip coming-of-age adapted from E.L. Doctorow’s story. But it has one of the year’s most affecting performances going for it as well: In her screen debut, Jessica Chastain inhabits the title character’s 10-year journey like an old pro, making the most of director Dan Ireland’s leisurely pace and a giving ensemble including Dermot Mulroney, Rupert Friend, Chazz Palminteri, Frances Fisher and Michael Vartan. Beautifully shot, it looks and feels like a sprawling showcase for the last gem in a retiring jeweler’s store — one everyone wants, too, including directors Terrence Malick and John Madden, who’ve featured Chastain in forthcoming films of their own. She’s worth it. (Opening limited in NYC, hopefully expanding into other markets soon.) Full Review To Index
10-28-10 Jessica Digs Deep in Jolene (New York Times) Jolene (Jessica Chastain), a survivor of sequential foster-home abuse, embarks on a 10-year search for stability and happiness. What she finds is sex... Jolene transitions from corn-pone Lolita to willing victim of male desire — Ms. Chastain digs deep. Surrendering to her character’s smoky voice-over and disastrous judgment, the actress finds pockets of soul in a role that’s part Jessica Rabbit, part Marilyn Monroe. Working from Dennis Yares’s adaptation of an E. L. Doctorow short story, Dan Ireland (whose marvelous 1996 film, “The Whole Wide World,” introduced us to Renée Zellweger) directs with exploitative zeal. Full Review To Index
10-28-10 Jolene Is Almost But Not Quite Good (New York Post) So bad it's almost (but not quite) good, Dan Ireland's "Jolene" is an unusually elaborate and excruciatingly long vanity production based on a short story by E.L. Doctorow ("Ragtime") about a young orphan who looks for (and finds) love in all the wrong places in the '60s and '70s...Like Doctorow's story, "Jolene" ends with her arrival in Hollywood, but not until we've seen nearly as much gratuitous nudity and over-the-top acting as in "Showgirls." Fortunately for Chastain, "Jolene" is getting only a token release, three years after it was filmed. Few except critics will remember it when she appears as the female lead in the much-anticipated "The Tree of Life" in May. Full Review To Index
10-26-10 Jolene Worth the Two-Year Wait (New York Observer) Jolene is a very good movie that toured the film festival circuit in 2008 and disappeared. It is opening at last, and it's good enough to ask aloud, what happened?...Sensitively directed by Dan Ireland, a co-founder of the Seattle International Film Festival who makes interesting, offbeat, critically praised movies (The Whole Wide World with Renée Zellweger, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont with Joan Plowright) that almost always run into distribution problems, Jolene has been carefully adapted by Dennis Yares from a short story by E.L. Doctorow. One would hope that it might change Mr. Ireland's continual run of bad luck, but the way it has been ignored by both the majors and the small film companies that specialize in low-budget indie-prods, I worry that a lot of people who crave fascinating departures from the normal Hollywood rinse cycle may never get a chance to see it. This would be a shame for many reasons, but most of all because Jolene introduces in the title role a captivating and totally original newcomer named Jessica Chastain. This movie boasts a terrific cast, and Ms. Chastain not only holds her own corner of every scene, she's the only thing you want to watch. It's a smashing debut. Full Review To Index
01-13-09 Jessica is a Real Find in Jolene (Hollywood Reporter) Because there isn't a strong narrative to link her disparate adventures, the film's success grows from the vividness of individual scenes and performances. Ireland has a gift for casting, and he has another find in Jessica Chastain, who can seem simultaneously childlike and womanly, vulnerable and hard-edged; even when she's embroiled in the most sordid encounters, she always retains our sympathy. And Ireland has surrounded her with a superb supporting cast including Dermot Mulroney, Theresa Russell, Frances Fisher, Rupert Friend, Chazz Palminteri and Michael Vartan. The film is technically accomplished, but it would benefit from some careful pruning. This picaresque tale dawdles a bit, but Chastain keeps us rooting for Jolene's survival. Full Review To Index
06-16-08 Jessica Anchors Film Which Has No Solid Grounding (GreenCine) Chastain does a great job of igniting Jolene's mix of street-wise survivalist instinct and romantic soul. Her performance anchors a film that has no solid grounding and her voice-over is spoken with a candid bluntness, the toughened, unsentimental honesty of hindsight with just a wistful trace of regret - but after a while I was merely shaking my head at her nearly fatal bad judgment, which does not improve with time or experience...I saw too few films [at the Seattle Film Festival] to go trend-spotting, but Jolene did spark a recognition of a tendency in films in general and American indies in particular (especially adaptations) at SIFF to frame and explain their narratives with voice-over narration. Full Review To Index
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03-12-10 Stolen Has Small Screen Feel (Daily News) There's a big difference between television and movie success, but surely triple Emmy nominee Jon Hamm ("Mad Men's" Don Draper) can do better than this minor noir drama. Written and directed by first timers, "Stolen" actually has a small-screen feel as it toggles unsteadily between two parallel tragedies. Hamm's Detective Adkins is searching for his missing son when he comes upon the remains of a boy kidnapped from a single father (Josh Lucas) in the 1950s...Hamm is so limited by the period trappings that it seems as if he simply wandered onto the wrong set. Full Review To Index
03-10-10 Polished and Suspenseful (New York Observer) Although Josh Lucas and Jon Hamm have no scenes together, they work in tandem. In a spiritual sense, Mr. Lucas reaches out from the grave to join forces with Mr. Hamm to track down the killer of their sons, providing 97 minutes of maximum jitters. If the first-time direction by Anders Anderson and the perfunctory script by Glenn Taranto don't always ignite, I admire their refusal to underestimate their audience's intelligence or give away anything more, at any given moment, than the characters discover themselves. This turns the viewer into a sleuth along with Mr. Hamm, turning up clues like a silent partner on the case. Not a masterpiece, perhaps, but technically polished, with inspired performances and enough suspense that by the time Mr. Hamm found the redemption that freed him from his own demons, I was so wired I needed a Valium. Full Review To Index
03-10-10 Stolen Seems Cheap and Offers Little (NY Press) Filmed in a washed-out palette that is meant to convey desperation but just comes across as cheap, Stolen offers little to the recent sub-genre of Imperiled Children movies, even as it takes the fathers’ point of view. James Van Der Beek appears in both time periods, saddled with hilariously gross old-age make-up during his scenes with Hamm. Hamm himself is too smart a performer for movies like these, but let’s write it off as a canny career move to take a vacation from Don Draper and his glumness. Full Review To Index
03-04-10 Dark Yet Prim and Proper (npr) Stolen is a dark saga set on the fringes of society, yet it couldn't have less film noir atmosphere. Everyone is just too pretty, and most of the characters are as sweet and simple as John, a child whose only apparent disability is being, well, childlike. Little attention is paid to period details like language, clothing or hair: Matthew's boys live in the late 1950s, but have shaggy, early-'70s manes. Indeed, their haircuts are almost the only unruly things in this facile movie. Stolen is a tale of random violence that's as prim as the vision of America peddled 50 years ago by Madison Avenue. Full Review To Index
03-04-10 Stolen: A Standard Issue Whodunit (Metromix) "Stolen" unfolds as a standard-issue "whodunit?" thriller with a multi-era spin. It's not half bad, nor particularly spectacular. It's just…there. Since the story coasts along on ambivalence, and the narrative build-up outshines a so-so payoff, you've got a film that hinges on Hamm's presence. He's got loads of it—but it's a double-edged sword. Hamm's performance capitalizes on his deft ability to play brooding, emotionally conflicted alpha-males. Just like Draper. That's a good thing if you're a "Mad Men" fan looking for something wholly familiar from the star. Not such a good thing if you were hoping to see him stretch out of his comfort zone. Full Review To Index
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Murder on the Orient Express

07-19-11 Jessica Delivers Knock-out Performance in Murder on the Orient Express (wordpress) The producers had talked at length about how they left this one until late in the proceedings - what would be the point, after all, of trying to mimic the landmark Albert Finney film? With a novel so perfectly structured and a very faithful, all-star film in existence, it would be fighting a losing battle to recreate it. By leaving Orient Express until the series' twelfth volume, they found a way to create their own niche with an accepted classic. And can I just say: what an achievement...The gold medal this week must go to Jessica Chastain as Mary Debenham. Not only is she stunningly beautiful, but Chastain delivers a knock-out, understated, beautifully nuanced performance that she commands the screen even in large group scenes where she is up against all the names mentioned above, and more! I hope she goes far. Full Review To Index

07-13-10 Poirot and His Antagonist, Jessica's Debanham, Play Up Moral Ambiguity (zahirblue) Much centers around the true identity of the victim--a vicious criminal named Cassetti, responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Daisy Armstrong five years earlier...What fascinates is how this version really plays up the moral ambiguity. Nowhere more in the short-lived relationship between Poirot and the person who proves his true antagonist--Miss Debanham (Vanessa Redgrave in the 1974 film, now played by Jessica Chastain). Before the train departs, Poirot and she are both witness to a terrible sight--a man leading a crowd to chase down, then stone to death his wife whom he claims to having been unfaithful. Poirot...agrees this was "unpleasant" but also "she knew the rules." Miss Debanham sees further, that even if guilty that poor woman killed no one. How could that have been justice?...The straightforward, even ruthless [Poirot] who begins this journey to Paris is not quite the same person who emerges from Orient Express a few days later. And he knows it. We can see it in his haunted eyes. Just as we can see her knowledge that they have done this to him in the gaze of Miss Debanham. Full Review To Index
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07-04-07 Jessica Is Real Star of the Show in Blackbeard (AVForums) Blackbeard ticks all the right boxes. It has everything that a good pirate film should have. It has full size sailing ships, sea battles (shot off the coast of Thailand), a mutiny, sword fights a go-go, duels with pistols, a pretty wench (Jessica Chastain), walking the plank, buried treasure and even a marooned hero...Blackbeard is played by Angus MacFadyen, who appeared as Robert the Bruce in 'Braveheart'. Sadly his portrayal of the seafaring rascal just doesn't convey the menace required by the role...MacFadyen lacks the screen presence (and acting experience) to make the character threatening, fearsome and hated. The bottom line is - he's just not scary...The real star of the show, however, is Jessica Chastain who plays the love-interest as a feisty gal who knows how to use a flintlock or blunderbuss to good effect...In general, it's an entertaining enough affair and there's enough going on to hold your interest for its 169 minutes. It just lacked the spark that was needed to make it a truly involving experience. Overall, remember it's a Hallmark romp and you won't be disappointed. Full Review To Index
07-04-07 Jessica Chastain is Nice Fit in Blackbeard (Amazon) Here is a great made-for-TV miniseries that does a fine job of capturing the mystique of the legendary (albeit infamous) pirate, Blackbeard. Angus Macfadyen nails the part of the flamboyant, reckless, merciless and rancorous buccaneer. With no offense to Mr. Macfadyen, he plays a great scoundrel! The rest of the cast is quite good as well. Jessica Chastain is a nice fit as the timid, demure, young & innocent upper class dame who must transform into something of a tomboy in order to stand up against the nasty pirates...Some other commentators have complained that the movie is not accurate. This is true: the storyline IS fictional...the "point" of this film is to tap into the mythology of the charismatic pirate ...On that account, I believe the movie delivered what it promised. There were parts of the movie in which I thought to myself: "I bet the real Blackbeard would have been able to relate to how he was portrayed in this film."...All in all, if you like pirate movies, this one is certainly worth a look...I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the film. Full Review To Index
07-12-06 Blackbeard Shows Its Made-for TV Roots (Flick Filospher) A made-for-cable mini, this overlong and underdone three-hour movie has its charms, but it suffers from a minuscule budget and, more dramatically, from its origins on the squeaky-clean Hallmark Channel...[It] is far too tame to thrill, and much of the action, like the pirate brawls that pad out the runtime, occur in muddy darkness...Intrigue comes in the form of a British naval officer (the vaguely Orlando Bloom-esque Mark Umbers) gone undercover on Blackbeard’s ship...and the spunky young lady (the very vaguely Keira Knightley-esque Jessica Chastain) who mopes for his return, when she isn’t rather improbably working as a doctor among the poor island folk. Full Review To Index
July 11, 2006 Blackbeard Not Great But Fun and Entertaining (DVD Talk) I had a pretty good time with Blackbeard. And I'm probably being just a little bit nicer than the starchy little mini-series deserves, but hey -- I had fun with it! Angus MacFadyen (and an outrageously ripe accent) stars as legendary pirate Edward "Blackbeard" Teach, a seafaring criminal who enjoyed a brief but very colorful reign in the early 1700s...The plot's your standard affair: Blackbeard busies himself by hunting for treasure and abusing the port town of New Providence...And if I told you that a romance blossoms between the blandly noble Maynard and the delicately lovely Ms. Charlotte ... well, I doubt you'd be all that surprised...Oh sure, Blackbeard might have been improved with 45 minutes shaved off its 169m running time, but then they couldn't have aired the thing over two consecutive nights...Like most mini-series produced for basic cable, Blackbeard occasionally trots out some really lame dialogue or some entirely sketchy special effects, but as far as these types of productions go, Blackbeard's pretty darn watchable. The production design is rather impressive, the thing (despite being too long) moves fairly quickly, and on the whole Blackbeard feels like a perfectly entertaining Saturday afternoon matinee. Full Review To Index
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Wilde Salome

03-30-12 Wilde Salome is Brilliant and Fascinating (popcornreel) Unfortunately, Mr. Pacino's documentary is not about Ms. Chastain, who plays the legendary playwright and wit Oscar Wilde's character Salome on stage in Estelle Parsons' theatre direction at the Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles. Nor does it offer up Ms. Chastain's unfiltered perspective on her character. (She mentions a thing or two about Salome, but that's about all.) Even so, "Wilde Salome" is brilliant and fascinating...When the iconic actor verbalizes what he endeavors to do, we're flabbergasted. Inevitably though, it's worth returning to Ms. Chastain. She is commanding, dazzling, sexy, penetrating and haunting as Salome, the stepdaughter Herod lusts after. At all times she had me in the palm of her hand. It's a confident and fearless stage performance, powerfully delivered and uncompromised for a like character. Ms. Chastain's excellent work here is one of the best efforts I've seen in a number of years, a performance that is so startlingly alive. There's full-blood, guts and body to Ms. Chastain's Salome, and she thunders in a superb tour-de-force. Mr. Pacino's 35mm cameras succeed in making Ms. Chastain's stage work a memorable cinematic showcase, and it's vibrant and indelible. Though theatre's here-and-now dynamic is ephemeral and immediate, Mr. Pacino captures a blood-lusting Salome in Ms. Chastain that lingers and is intense and unsettling, yet transfixing and glorious, etched in the mind long after the film's end credits arrive. Full Review To Index

09-04-11 It's All in Jessica's Eyes in Wilde Salome (Whatculture) With Pacino as our perfect tour guide we go from New York to London, to Dublin to Los Angeles following Oscar Wilde's steps. We learn about Wilde's life in London and it's a journey inside one of the best minds of western literature… The film was very experimental, shot in a studio with no external locations. But as we watch pieces of the film there is no need for locations. It's all in the acting. It's all there, we do not need more. It's all in Jessica Chastain's eyes when she asks for the head of John the Baptist whose only fault was to resist her beauty. He did not kiss her. And so Salome get what she wants, as the audience's eyes are glued to the screen… You don't need to be a fan of Al Pacino's films to enjoy Wilde Salome, you don't even have to be a fan of Oscar Wilde for that matter. If you like films, if you love theater and want to see with your own eyes what passion means, then Wilde Salome will definitely not leave you disappointed. Full Review To Index

09-04-11 One Principle Reason to see Wilde Salome: Jessica Chastain (Indie Wire) It's an ambitious project… and it's no surprise that it's taken five years to see the project through to completion (as is clear from the ugly DV footage that makes up much of the candid section of the film)…there's one principle reason to see "Wilde Salome," and the clue is in the second part of the title. Pacino (and, we assume, Parsons) can claim bragging rights on Jessica Chastain, who plays the title role in the production; she was cast in the stage version way back in 2006, long before her current omnipresence, when all she had to her name were a handful of TV credits on the likes of "E.R." and "Veronica Mars." Not only does Chastain (only 25 at time of filming) exude star quality and a serious-minded work ethic in the behind-the-scenes footage, but she's also sensationally, jaw-droppingly good as Salome. It's a far cry from her ethereal turn in "The Tree of Life," the actress moving effortlessly between the innocent, the seductress and the monster. It's impossible to take your eyes off her when she's on screen, and it firmly reinforces what's become more and more clear over the course of 2011; that she's a truly precious talent, and one that will only go on to do more and more impressive work over the years. It remains to be seen if the film gets even the kind of limited release that "Looking for Richard" received-it's a much more niche piece of work, and being much less well realized, is unlikely to attract even much of an arthouse crowd. But even if it ends up airing on PBS years from now, it's worth checking out, if only for the acting fireworks. Full Review To Index
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