Zero Dark Thirty (2013)
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez, Chris Pratt and James Gandolfini
Written by Mark Boal
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Returning to the big screen for the first time in four years, Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow goes back behind enemy lines to bring us Zero Dark Thirty. Zero Dark Thirty is the tale of the hunt and eventual termination of the world’s most wanted terrorist: Osama Bin Laden. The real question is can Kathryn Bigelow deliver a film based on the saga of the hunt for Bin Laden that is as gripping and thought provoking as The Hurt Locker?
Starting from the attacks of September 11 2001, exhibited here as only sounds over a pitch black screen, we follow the career of CIA operative Maya (Chastain) as she starts her decade long obsession into finding Osama Bin Laden. From bleak interrogation rooms in CIA black sites, Maya quickly learns under master interrogator Dan (Clarke) the extremes her fellow countrymen are willing to go to for leads and answers. Maya’s own obsession starts with trying to find the Abu Ahmed, allegedly one of Bin Laden’s most trusted men. The search continues for a decade, until an oversight is discovered that sets the movements in motion for the raid that ended Bin Laden’s life.
As much as director Bigelow’s last theatrical film, 2008’s The Hurt Locker, was a mainly insular and ultimately star-making turn for Jeremy Renner, Zero Dark Thirty belongs utterly and completely to Jessica Chastain, and she is more than up to the task. We see her Maya go from a young, enthusiastic, hopeful lady to a hard-edged, worn and ferociously tenacious woman through the course of the film. The supporting cast, aside from strong turns from Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Ehle, are mainly background characters who help push the story along – this is Maya’s story. The only other actor given ample time is the impeccable Jason Clarke who is fantastic here. Clarke’s Dan becomes one of Maya’s most trusted allies in the fight for her desire to chase after Abu Ahmed when everyone else thinks she is chasing a ghost. The final scene with a imploding Maya as she realizes she has done nothing but chase this man for a decade and has forsaken everything else, including a place to actually call ‘home’ is pure cinematic brilliance in her performance.
Boal has crafted another intelligent script that makes you feel like an insider, behind the walls where all the decisions are made. Bigelow has made a smart choice in going with mainly traditional camera and not all handheld like Hurt Locker was, which plays so much better considering the more epic scale of the story being told. Her framing works very well and the steady hand behind the camera keeps the story focused and on point with Maya, even when it does go off on tangents like Ehle’s character, Jessica’s meeting with a potential spy within Al Queda, it returns it focus back to Maya almost immediately. The film is hardly short with a running time slightly over 2 ½ hours, but the time flies by as the film itself is enveloping and never feels like it is taking too long to get anywhere. In fact its running time will likely be shocking by the end of the film. The careful recreating and crafting of the sets and locations lends another level of authenticity, the Bin Laden compound looks pitch perfect and the other compounds and black sites are painstakingly recreated.
Never feeling like an over the top propaganda film, in fact Zero Dark Thirty is pleasantly devoid of a lot of those politics and shines a harsh light on some of the practices of US interrogators. Zero Dark Thirty is an enthralling account of the hunt for one man and the obsession of one woman. A more complete, grand scale and satisfying film than Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty stands to be Bigelow’s most accomplished and rewarding film to date. Zero Dark Thirty is a strong recommend.
Till Next Time,
Movie Junkie TO
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