Zero Dark Thirty. (2012). MPAA: R (for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language). Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, and Chris Pratt. Written by Mark Boal. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.
Prepare yourself for a full throttle thrill ride that is guaranteed to shake you to your core. Kathryn Bigelow’s sort of sequel to her 2009 Oscar winning work that was The Hurt Locker, titled Zero Dark Thirty (a military term for “half-past midnight”), is a mind blowing and gravity defying look at one of the most crucial manhunts in American history. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (screenwriter for The Hurt Locker) team up once again, this time dramatizing the decade long hunt for and eventual killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Imagine the weight on their shoulders. It all pays off, though. In just under three hours, the team of filmmakers brings forth a near two hour string of complete dialogue that will keep your eyes focused and ready, throwing in some “jump-out-of-your-seat” moments, and it all leads up to one of the most intense, breathtaking, and edge-of-your-seat final acts in recent years.
Throughout the runtime of Zero Dark Thirty we are introduced to many characters, none of which we know a thing about. Dan (Jason Clarke), an officer working at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, headed by Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), is introduced along with our main character, Maya (Jessica Chastain), an agent who has dedicated her entire life to researching and hunting down Osama Bin Laden. If this movie gets one thing wrong, it’s character development, which is essential in virtually ever movie. But in Zero Dark Thirty it’s irrelevant. We don’t need to know these characters. And we don’t. We meet them as they are, learn nothing of their back story, and just follow them through their journeys. It all pays off. Clarke is intriguing. Every scene he is in your eyes are sure to be glued. But, as good as he is, the fact cannot be denied: this is Chastain’s movie. She steals everything. Her emotion is invigorating. I am certain she will win the Oscar for Best Actress, but if not, she more than deserves the nomination she received. She’s a marvel. Kyle Chandler does great work as well as the station chief of the Embassy, and Mark Strong makes a solid appearance as well. It was also nice to see James Gandolfini make a nice appearance for a while. Some other performances to note are the ones of the small roles played by Seal Team Six in the final act, lead by Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt, who lead the suspenseful and well thought out raid.
As I said earlier in this review, this movie opens to a lot of dialogue. 2 hours worth actually. Yes, the first two hours of this film are almost nothing but conversations, meetings, and interrogations. Don’t make the assumption that that makes this a boring film. Mark Boal provides an electric script that is exhilarating and stimulating on every level. Unlike most war related movies that come out, Boal provides a script that everyone can understand. There are no complex militaristic terms used. Nothing is too complicated. It’s all relatable, making this a very deep and personable movie, capable of being watched any American, as it should be. Thankfully, Boal and Bigelow decide to stray away from being pro-Obama propaganda, doing as much as staying far away from politics in general. They keep it straight forward, and it certainly pays off. This takes Mark Owen’s marvelous memoir No Easy Day and pushes past it, moving deeper into the roots of the problem and the springing of the mission that changed the world. Which brings us to the mission.
The raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound is the most intense scene of 2012, and it goes down in my book as one of the most suspenseful scenes in cinematic history. No film before this one had me literally shaking, sweating, and falling off my seat in suspense. At every turn the SEALS made, I found myself jumping, startled at just how well Bigelow set up this film version of the historic invasion. It’s all mesmerizing here, not one shed of fabricated intentions. The shaky-cam is used to astounding effects and it molds itself around the action going on in front of the camera, and it creates an iconic American movie scene. Bigelow directs this film masterfully, and I would say it is the best directed movie of the entire year. Every shot looks gorgeous, and not in the CGI aspect, but instead, the realism that Bigelow follows. It looks amazing.
And on that note, I would like to send a special message to the Academy. You nominate Jessica Chastain for Best Actress (deservedly so). You nominate Mark Boal’s script for Best Original Screenplay (deservedly so). You nominate the film itself for Best Picture (once again, deservedly so). So then, Academy, do tell me: HOW CAN YOU NOT NOMINATE KATHRYN BIGELOW FOR BEST DIRECTOR? I am furious right now! How can the first female to win Best Director for a movie not be nominated for a film that improves upon the previous one? Words cannot express how enraged I am. That also goes for Ben Affleck for Argo and Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained. Bigelow is the best director of the year. You suck Academy. That is all.
FINAL VERDICT: Zero Dark Thirty is one of the most intricate and well crafted military movies ever made. The first two acts overflow with an unstoppable amount of absorbing dialogue, and it all leads up to one of the most intense, gripping, and unforgettable climaxes in movie history. Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal have once again crafted a beautiful, harrowing, powerful, emotional disturbing, and unrelentingly realistic war movie that pieces together the hunt for Osama Bin Laden with utmost skill and an unflinching attention to specifics and details. (A+)