Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, Mark Duplass, James Gandolfini, Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton
Review Written By: Michael Dalton (Prime Minister)
While The Hurt Locker won the Academy Awards that will undoubtedly elude this film, in my eyes this film is on another level to Bigelow and Boal’s previous collaboration. The story is naturally more fascinating, the cast more widespread, the music more haunting and come the final thirty minutes, the direction is more accomplished and assured. Based on this film’s final movements alone, it is quite frankly embarrassing for the Academy that Kathryn Bigelow is not up for the Best Director award. This film is a task that few filmmakers would have dared face yet alone accomplish and Bigelow deserves enormous credit for her bravery and the film’s intensity.
The film opens to a dark screen, accompanied only by the sounds of September 11th 2001. It is a haunting and powerful way to open the film however its effect is slightly diluted by the fact that Michael Moore did it in Fahrenheit 9/11 and while I’m not accusing Bigelow and co. of blatant plagiarism, it did take me out of their movie and into another just as they were about to begin telling me their story. The film proceeds to become what is in essence a procedural. Many will go into this film expecting the last thirty minutes and will be disappointed to discover that the majority of this film’s near three hour running time, is spent discussing, debating and deciphering clues and leads. While due to the realism of the dialogue, direction and performances I was engrossed throughout, if you don’t have a prior interest and fascination in the topic, you might find your attention and interest wane due to the film’s density.
This is a film which takes an incredibly realistic approach and refreshingly so. When the moment comes and a certain target is killed it is shown in a manner as if you had just experienced it as part of the mission. There is no rousing music, no slow motion, no gimmicks whatsoever, a bullet is simply fired and the operation continues. To say it’s anti-climatic sounds like a criticism, yet I mean it as a compliment. The raid scene is incredibly intense and a tour de force of direction, cinematography, sound and editing, yet it is not the triumphant piece of heroism many would expect it or even demand it to be portrayed as. When Bin Laden is killed a Navy Seal turns to his colleague, essentially concurrently addressing the audience and says, “Do you know what you just did?”
The film doesn’t help the audience by taking a political allegiance and this is an incredibly neutral film, which tells its tale and allows the audience to make up its own minds. This is perhaps best demonstrated when Obama (In his only appearance in the film) is shown on TV denouncing torture and promising its termination, as a group of C.I.A agents watch we are waiting for their comment, they say and do nothing and merely continue with their conversation. The film however does not shy away from showing the U.S. government getting their hands dirty, there are the priorly mentioned scenes of torture and high-ranking C.I.A chiefs shouting to their colleagues, “Bring me somebody to kill” And while this may not be the Obama piece that Republicans feared there are lines which as an Obama fan I appreciated. The president is described as a, “Thoughtful and analytic man” and when a C.I.A chief accuses one of the President’s closest advisers of being political, he replies, “If this was political we’d be talking about this in October when there is an election coming up, what we’re talking about is pure risk”
One underappreciated aspect of this film to date is Alexandre Desplat’s score. The music in this film, particularly when the Navy Seal teams are riding to the compound in the dead of night, is absolutely haunting. In that moment, Desplat’s score perfectly contributes to the tone created by Bigelow, leaving you on the edge of your seat and incredibly nervous despite an awareness of the outcome.
What will perhaps be most surprising to many is this film’s cast which consists of actors such as Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, James Gandolfini, Mark Duplass and even for literally one scene and two lines, John Barrowman. While at times the appearance of certain familiar faces can be distracting, each actor in this film gives an incredibly believable performance. This film missed out on a Screen Actors Guild ensemble nomination and after having now seen the film I cannot see why. Kyle Chandler (Perhaps best known in cinema for his role as the father in Super 8) is superb in the film as Joseph Bradley, given a larger governmental agency role in this than he had in Argo (Where he was in all of two scenes) and I hope to see him given even larger roles in the future as every time he comes on screen in this film, it lit up for me personally. Additionally Jason Clarke is the presence that is perhaps most charismatic and comedic in the film, yet the character who is at the forefront of the film’s disturbing scenes of torture. He however infuses the film with an energy and like many actors this year, deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination at this year’s Oscars more than Alan Arkin.
However this film belongs to Jessica Chastain. A hard working and chameleonic actress who appeared in multiple films last year; Chastain is a force of nature in this film. Seeing her transformation from the timid and tentative agent to the confident and knowledgeable woman who calls herself, “The mother***er who found the house” in meetings with top C.I.A chiefs is fascinating to see. However the haunting final image of this film is what will stay in my mind for a long time and Chastain deserves to win this year’s Oscar for those final seconds alone. Her character’s journey and Chastain’s performance is Godfather-esque.
Zero Dark Thirty is not a conventional film and due to the nature of its execution it is perhaps a film that will be more respected and admired than conventionally enjoyed. The craft, construction and execution of this film is something I deeply admire as somebody who is passionate about and interested in film, politics and history. At a two hour forty five minute running time, the majority of which is composed of dialogue and ultra-realistic scenes of torture and violence, this film isn't for everyone. The fact that the film doesn't end on a note of emotional clarity may further alienate it to some however once again it is what for me makes this film stand out. Zero Dark Thirty is a film that is much more emotionally and intellectually deeper than it could have been. Ultimately, Zero Dark Thirty is a film that shows us where we’ve come and what we’ve done since 9/11 and leaves its protagonist, and audience, with a simple question come its final scene, “Where do you want to go?”
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister
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