Director Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” may be one of the most anticipated films of 2012 and one of the must-see films on my list. It started limited releases in select cities last 12/19/12 and will be hitting a nationwide release Jan. 11, 2013. I was fortunate to find a limited engagement in my city that began yesterday. After Bigelow’s award-winning film “The Hurt Locker”, expectations run high, and Bigelow has once again delivered with her dramatization of the hunt for Osama BinLaden.
The film begins with a pitch black screen with actual 911 calls during Sept. 11, 2001 heard in the background. It’s horrifying segment that speaks a lot of history on the film’s premise. After all, no American has not been affected by the events of that fateful day. Using this as a precursor for how the film was going to go was smart and definitely awakens the emotions we felt on 9/11/01. Cut to a scene where a few operatives are about to interrogate a restrained terrorist, and among them is a young woman, Maya (Jessica Chastain, The Debt), who had been recruited to hunt for Al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. The film follows the timeline between the 2001 terrorist attacks until the 2011 Navy Seals raid on the compound where Osama Bin Laden is hiding. He is currently the world’s most dangerous and wanted man, and America would move Heaven and Earth to bring him to justice. Dead or alive.
Kathryn Bigelow does an incredible job with “Zero Dark Thirty” and she is fast becoming one of my favorite film directors. By bringing forth memories of the events of the 9/11 attacks, Bigelow gets her audience invested immediately. What then follows are images that are harrowingly realistic and arguably necessary as the characters (in this case CIA operatives) go into steps that can indeed be seen as torture. With Bigelow not having to hold back on the disturbing imagery of a ‘water-boarding’ scene, she defines exactly just what is at stake, and the urgency of the situation provides tension. The film does take an accusing finger on the questionable actions that the operatives are taking, but rather just presents an ugly truth that the viewer gets to decide their own moral stances.
The film is all about a manhunt, and the viewer is brought along a kind of “sectional storytelling“ which has been labeled by key phrases brought about by its main characters. It is all about keeping the viewer at the edge of their seats, as Bigelow manipulates the screen with key footages that include the interrogation of potential suspects, scenes of terror attacks that occurred after 9/11 and even an attack at a CIA “Black Site“ that killed many operatives. Bigelow never lets up with the film‘s momentum, and as she manipulates the film‘s movements, she definitely awakens a lot of emotion that helps in the processing of the film. The viewer will certainly come to realize the hardships and horror of a war against terrorism.
The screenplay by Mark Boal was excellent and was able to carry the film’s energy with an episodic “breeze” that goes "touch and go" through key sequences to express the events. This kind of writing is extremely hard to pull off, but he passes with flying colors. To keep things grounded, and moving in its long 157 minute runtime, the script limits the number of key characters and focuses on the Maya character. Maya is an extremely well-written character that no one else is really needed to express the film’s premise. It was amazing just how Bigelow and Boal was able to show the stress involved in such a manhunt. Maya is the character that stresses, become angry, and breaks down with all that is involved; she brings forth all the emotional aspects of the incredible manhunt for America’s most wanted man.
Of course, Maya would not be a powerful female character if it wasn’t for Jessica Chastain’s performance. Chastain connected incredibly with her role and Bigelow was able to bring forth the best in the actress. When Maya utters “I am the motherfucker who found this house”, it spoke a lot of power just how frustrated and stressed she is of the situation. Jason Clarke was good as Dan, a fellow CIA operative who does the interrogations while Mark Strong was good as the man who analyzes the risks of the mission. Jennifer Ehle plays a woman who develops a friendship with Maya, and may have been one of the things that made Maya much more determined to find Bin Laden. Kyle Chandler (as Joseph Bradley) and James Gandolfini (as Leon Panetta) play CIA officials who had to deal with the politics of the operation. The screenplay was fantastic in defining its characters and making them feel realistic.
Bigelow was as skilled in shooting the film’s dramatic elements as in shooting the raid in the Bin Laden compound. Bigelow keeps the shots as close as possible, and makes the viewer feel as if they were present at the real event. She paid close attention to the gear, the movements and the execution of the raid, and the scenes with Navy SEAL team 6 go into overdrive and yet, it stays close to realism. Much of the sequence was done with the night-vision goggles and so Bigelow uses this perspective to emulate the combat. The raid felt authentic as every gunfire and spark is felt, as the team moves in a very efficient way to get their man.
Kathryn Bigelow has created an outstanding film. Its strong screenplay and powerful dialogue makes the film’s execution a sort of an art form that I would be surprised if this film did not come away with more than its share of Academy awards. Bigelow would be a contender for Best Director, Chastain may grab Best actress and the film may indeed capture the Best Picture award. It is hard for me to find a flaw or to nitpick Bigelow's film, it kept things raw and steered away from the conventions of 'sensationalizing'. “Zero Dark Thirty” just felt so authentic and natural that it may be one of the best films of 2013 (or 2012 if you saw it in a limited screening in your city).
Fiction or not, Bigelow's supposed docu-thriller about the work that led to Bin Laden's final seconds is a cinematic gem. An extraordinary film that, by my surprise, it doesn't try to teach, impose, nor propose anything to the audience. It doesn't try to glorify any act in the film, including the main stage, the killing of the once "most wanted man on the planet". Bringing your own thoughts and beliefs about what really happened behind the curtains … more