Best Picture review – ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Posted: January 21, 2013 in Movies, Reviews

*Join me as I review all of the 2013 “Best Picture” Academy Award nominees*

Silver Linings Playbook

Django Unchained

Zero Dark Thirty is one of those films that you’re either going to love or you’re going to hate, there doesn’t appear to be any middle ground with this one.  Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to the Oscar winning The Hurt Locker comes just a year and a half after news broke that the Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden was shot and killed in a compound within the Pakistan borders.  The film re-unites Bigelow with award winning writer Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) with what comes together as meticulous and gritty.

Zero Dark Thirty stars Jessica Chastain – in the best role of her career – as inexperienced CIA agent Maya put in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the leader behind the September 11 attacks on the US.  The film begins with the torturous treatment of an Al-Qaeda member by CIA agents with Maya in attendance.  You can clearly see that the practices (waterboarding, scare tactics, psychological torture) the other CIA agents are using during this “interrogation” are affecting Chastain’s character.  She’s visibly shaken.  After the incident, the detainee asks her for help and she calmly, and blankly, looks at him saying “tell him what he wants to know”.  It’s at this moment that Maya’s character is established and really sets the tone for the rest of the film.

The rest of the film plays out like a jigsaw puzzle being put together by a team of problem solvers.  Maya is tasked with putting together a team of CIA agents in what will become a 10 year job.  Kyle Chandler (Super 8, Friday Night Lights) and Jason Clarke (Lawless) bring a different approach to Maya’s character as agents with an agenda.  While the film toy’s with emotions of defeat and dread the film’s final act more than pays off the wait.  The footage of SEAL Team Six going into the compound under the cloak of night and taking out bin Laden is so well done it doesn’t even appear to be part of the film.  It’s a sequence of film that is among the best I’ve seen in the past year.  It makes you wish the entire film was about SEAL Team Six.

Zero Dark Thirty is a gritty film, and at times it’s cringe worthy – not because it’s a bad film but because of it’s content.  Politicians across the country have spoken out against Bigelow’s film mainly because they believe it paints the hunt for bin Laden as a torture-fest.  Of course, this is just one account of the events that transpired leading up to that assault on the compound in Pakistan.  No one will really know for sure what happened and where, but most of us can believe that something close to these events took place.  Bigelow is an excellent story teller; I’d love to see her tackle a domestic story as her next film.  She’s got a way for telling a story in the most harsh circumstances, and her characters (and the actors that portray them) really benefit.

If you enjoy a well crafted story that takes its time to flesh its story out, than Zero Dark Thirty is a film for you and may be the best of 2012.  However, I felt that Bigelow deliberately took her time telling Maya’s story and for that the film suffered.  Either way, it’s a movie worth watching.

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