Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Markus Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language
Now playing at Century 20 Oakridge Mall in San Jose, California:
Mimicking what more than likely every other critic has already said, “Zero Dark Thirty” will undoubtedly be a heavy favorite to receive an Oscar for Best Picture of the year; especially considering the Academy’s past love affair with director Kathryn Bigelow’s overrated film “The Hurt Locker”.
With a haunting opening scene (which may be hard for some to listen to) and an exceptionally handled final shot (actually, final 30 minutes), “Zero Dark Thirty” brings to life the decade-long search for Osama bin Laden by the CIA, after 9/11. OK, so even though I went in (like most American’s) with an understanding of the gravity of the subject matter, as well as the importance of what a movie like this should mean to an American audience, at times (especially during the first 90 minutes) I consciously didn’t feel like I was as invested in the story as much as Bigelow wanted me to be. And what that equates to is simply, if you aren’t that interested in seeing a movie about the manhunt for Osama bin Laden, then “Zero Dark Thirty”, while may hold your attention, may also not come off as the masterpiece many are hailing it to be. Aside from that, aesthetically speaking, “Zero Dark Thirty” is very well directed and constructed. The sectioned out chapters Bigelow inserts throughout, work quite well as brief exposition amidst a somewhat complex timeline, and while (as an audience member) you are sure to feel the length of this movie (coming in at 157 minutes) that is probably intentional, if only to add to the atmosphere of the entire piece; as a movie about a grueling 10 year manhunt shouldn’t speed by in 90 minutes.
In saying that, there are a few stand-out aspects that “Zero Dark Thirty” brings to the table, which are alone worth the price of admission. First off, the ability of Jessica Chastain to steal the show should finally be acknowledged here. After getting some past awards season love for her stand-out performances in both “The Tree of Life” and “The Help”, Chastain as the protagonist Maya, a CIA operative who spearheaded the attempt to kill bin Laden, gives the best performance of her (still blossoming) career. This tremendously layered character that Mark Boal has written could have easily been overdramatized and turned into an Erin Brockovich (girls can do it too) performance, but Chastain plays it with just the right amount of tempered command, giving Maya a sense of reliability. Her performance is so interesting, that “Zero Dark Thirty” eventually turns into a compelling character study as well as historical drama. In fact, the latter part of this film is way more entertaining than the initial hour because of Chastain’s award worthy performance. Simply stated: the more this evolves into the Jessica Chastain show, the more watchable “Zero Dark Thirty” becomes.
Secondly (and maybe most importantly) Bigelow does something quite gutsy here. While not giving audiences a sympathetic look at members of al-Qaeda, Bigelow does make it a point to show how intelligent the enemy was. This differs from the American cinema norm of making the American’s constantly the smartest ones in the room, instead creating a more accurate depiction of a big and powerful America versus a small but elusive and very tactically aware enemy. Furthermore, Bigelow’s “atmosphere of realism” throughout (especially in the final act, when SEAL Team 6 kills Osama…Spoiler Alert, I guess) will be what ultimately solidifies “Zero Dark Thirty” as a memorable film for most. In all actuality, this same sense of realism is the most interesting thing to come out of the initial hour, occurring during sequences which are sure to be seen as highly controversial, where supposed terrorist are TORTURED by members of the CIA, with the intent of obtaining intelligence. Though these scenes are not unique to this film, in fact “waterboarding” is a tactic that has been used a multitude of times by bad guys (or brown people) in many generic American action movies set abroad, what Bigelow does here is use the similar waterboarding sequence and suffocates it with her own unique style of gritty realism; in turn, creating sequences American audiences would have been unfazed by in any other film, and making them quite hard to watch (and rightfully so). Also, by making the only TORTURING done in this film be executed by members of the CIA (an agency well respected in American cinema) she makes these same scenes strangely alluring.
Final Thought: As heavy as the premise and the Aaron Sorkin-esque dialogue is, Bigelow does interject a few scenes of suspense amidst it all, which shows her understanding of historical entertainment (though this is not as entertaining as “Argo”, but hey). So, because of Bigelow’s direction, her the lack of punches pulled and Chastain’s performance, “Zero Dark Thirty” is definitely a film to take strong notice of this awards season. Plus, considering the amount of high praise this movie is getting (by others) the least that can be said about “Zero Dark Thirty” is that this is Kathryn Bigelow finally solidifying herself as the best director in the “War in Afghanistan based drama” genre.
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