Zero Dark Thirty (5 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
Written by Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, and Joel Edgarton
The film that has wowed the critics, and myself has gotten too much attention for the subject of torture rather than the the quality of the film. In a recent interview with director Kathryn Bigelow David Letterman broaches the subject, and Bigelow handles it beautifully stating that this film was not a point by point plotting, but used events and people to create the basis for one of the greatest manhunts of all time. While torture is an element of this story, the film does not attempt to take a moral stand point on this subject, and many are criticizing Bigelow and Boal for letting this subject matter exist. Bigelow was right in her interview torture happened, and moving forward the focus should be on the actual film.
For those living under a rock, Zero Dark Thirty focuses on the almost ten year search for terrorist Osama Bin Laden. The film starts with the horrific calls to 911 on September 11, 2001. From those first haunting moments the film follows a ten search for al-Quaeda terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden, and his death by a team of Navy S.E.A.L.S. The film centers on Maya (Chastain) and CIA agent hell bent on Bin Laden's capture and death. Maya works through torture, intelligence, and even attack to capture Bin Laden.
In an allegorical sense Maya represents director Kathryn Bigelow. Bigelow is one the best working of the best working directors, and like Maya she operates in a man's world. Many have made this comparison, and while they are right, Bigelow has proven herself to not be defined by gender. Bigelow's direction is some of the best work this year; she helps take this film through different levels building the momentum. Bigelow creates an aura around these real life events telling one of the most compelling stories of the year.
Bigelow's last picture The Hurt Locker, was named Best Picture, and she was named Best Director; she was the first women to win Best Director. In both of these films there is a sense of reality that films often lose when they enter the war zone. Bigelow combines this realism in action which trascends beautifully from working with screenwriter mark Boal once again. The team of Bigelow and Boal is a force to be reckoned with, and there is no stopping the way this duo put words on the screen. Boal's screenplay is more than a chronicle, but an aptly drawn out battle, which forces you to intently observe the nuances of this search, and ultimately a battle play out. In other hands this screenplay could have been simple ay a procedural, but this film succeeds to characterize not only the fight but even the smallest character.
Boal uses Maya to drive the story forward, and boy is Maya one BAMF (bad ass mother fucker). From the first moments when Maya arrives to see Dan (Jason Clarke) while he tortures Ammar to get information from him you can tell Maya is willing to take on this challenge at any cost. Chastain is brilliant as Maya; she is tough, vulnerable, funny, and hardcore. In one scene she meets with the C.I.A. director played by James Gandolfinni, and he asks what else have you done besides this, and Maya responds with a simple "nothing." Maya pushes the limits, and Chastain's performance is one of the bravest performances of the entire year. Last year Chastain proved she has talents on all levels with roles in Take Shelter, Tree of Life, The Help, and a few more; she was the breakout performer of the year, and this film proves just how much she can carry one of the best films of the year.
Chastain is the lone character who lasts throughout the whole film, but the team of Bigelow and Boal know how to characterize the rest of the ensemble. From a brilliant performance by Jason Clarke as Dan whose torture techniques make you cringe with disbelief capture the brutal realism to Joel Edgarton and Chris Pratt who play Navy S.E.A.L.S. going into to get the kill. This is one incredible ensemble, and Bigelow, and Boal make sure to flesh out the realistic moments with every moment of the film.
This is one of the best films of the year, the subject matter is handled beautifully, by the geniuses Bigelow, and Boal. Along with Chastain this team is complete, and they work together effortlessly. Zero Dark Thirty is a thrilling ride into the search for a monster, and never lets you leave the edge of your seat.