Released: 25th January 2013
Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt
Reviewed By: William McAbee
In her previous film, Kathryn Bigelow captured modern warfare unlike any other director. While others had made fast paced, action packed, gun blazing films, Bigelow focused on the slow, tension building, patient driven action that defines the state of modern war. She also was rewarded for her efforts by dominating awards season and winning the Best Director and Picture oscars over her ex-husband James Cameron. Needless to say when the news was released that Bigelow and Mark Boal, who also wrote The Hurt Locker, were working together again I was excited. Add to the mix that the film was about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and you have cinema gold in your hands. Featuring a stellar cast including Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, Chris Pratt, and Joel Edgerton and it seems that it is almost impossible to fail. With the potential through the roof, Bigelow has the potential to make an instant classic and capture one of the most important manhunts in recent history.
Zero Dark Thirty follows the driven Maya, a young recruit into the CIA after September 11, 2001 who has been assigned to the case of finding Osama Bin Laden. Starting at 9/11, the film follows the hunt and the long road to capturing the mastermind behind the attacks. Covering everything from detainee tortures to following bad leads, the hunt pushes Maya to her limits as she has to fight back doubters and her leaders working against her. After losing friends through the war and almost losing hope, after almost a decade of looking, Maya believes she has found the house holding Osama Bin Laden. Maya must now work fast to get the facts to back up her beliefs and to convince the bureaucrats in Washington that she is correct in hopes to capture Bin Laden before it is all too late.
Luckily for the audience we get to see Bigelow at the top of her game here as she combines her brutal talents of raw, realistic action with intense drama and some great acting from her cast. Chastain is able to dominate the screen from beginning to end. You can feel her passion from beginning to end as she trends the line from obsession to patriotism. She also has some of the best lines of the year, including a personal favorite “I’m the motherf$%ker who found the house”. She does so much in saying so little but yet is able to handle her dialogue as well. The rest of the cast does a superb job especially from Kyle Chandler whose best work comes from his argument with Chastain, some of the best acting of the year between those two here. Everyone else here is solid but those two really stuck out, especially Chastain who really makes this role her own.
That said the real star here is Bigelow who has once again made a modern masterpiece and a great film reflecting modern warfare. Today’s war is slow and patient where everything is run efficiently and effectively. Along with that we also have solider who use bombs as weapons to take others completely by surprise. Bigelow is perfect at capturing the shock and awe of a bomb explosion in this film. It is quick, efficient, and by the time you figure out what is happening it is far too late. She makes the audience part of this experience and each bomb had my jaw dropped I can promise you that. Plus the explosions are so realistic, nice and big but never over the top. It is a unique experience of realistic filmmaking that we rarely see these days.
I also commend her for how she opened this film. Most would use stock footage to remind us about 9/11 but instead she took audio from the attack and let the noises and voices shake our emotional core. We have all seen the pictures and video of 9/11 but she gives us the true human element of it. A building can be a disconnect for some and as I have said a repetition of images is something that everyone has done but letting that noise and those voices enter our head, you have done something haunting to set up the film and remind us why this had to be done. Now if there are any complaints here is that the first act can drag on a little. Still this is a very small complaint as Bigelow is taking us on this journey from beginning to end and refusing to skip over anything.
As expected the last act of the film is its finest. As the SEAL team heads out to the actual compound we are able to follow them as they executed this manhunt to its climax. From beginning to end the attack on the compound might be one of the most finely executed film sequences of all time, brilliant execution. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and I can honestly say that I thought I was actual there breaking into the compound. In a world where filmmakers are using 3-D and high frame rates to make a film “immerse ” they are completely missing the point that classic filmmaking, conflict, tension, and execution make a film more immerse than any 3-D effect will ever be able to do. It is the best sequence of the year in my opinion Bigelow at her finest. If the whole movie was just this scene alone I would praise it endlessly.
Without a doubt this is my personal favorite film of 2012. Wonderful chracter driven story that makes us feel part of the whole experience. Wonderful cast and some of Bigelow’s best direction to date it makes you wish that Bigelow and Boal just made every movie together from now on. Amazing visuals, great effects, and fine filmmaking all come together to create one of the best movie experiences of the past year.