Katheryn Bigelow’s follow up to her Best Picture-winning The Hurt Locker is another modern war film, Zero Dark Thirty (ZD30). And she tops that movie in every way. Starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt, ZD30 attempts to recreate the US government’s 12 year hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Watch the trailer then read my review after the jump.
Telling a war story is incredibly difficult, especially one during a war that is still going on. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (who also wrote The Hurt Locker) manage to tell the story through all the key attacks, so the basics are already known by the audience, but there are still secrets that can surprise.
I read the news a lot, and am very familiar with the killing of Bin Laden through many long articles about the topic (like this one). But I still found my heart racing and I still felt the intensity of the scenes, which I think is a huge feat that Bigelow pulls off perfectly. The way she dramatizes real events and creates suspense is so powerful that it is an actual action movie, not just a war drama.
The best representation of this intensity is the final attack on the compound in Pakistan. This scene is close to 30 minutes long and everything about it will have you on the edge of your seat. The building is a maze and full of surprises behind every door. There are lots of surprise bangs, the kills are quick and not exaggerated. And the death of Bin Laden happens so quick you might miss it. You may go in thinking you know how this film ends, but that won’t stop you from feeling true fear and excitement from the final attack. They couldn’t have portrayed it better.
Chastain is far and away the star of this show. She had some breakout roles in 2011 with The Tree of Life and The Help but ZD30 will put her on the map for good (and possibly get her an Oscar). Her character Maya was the person who led the chase for Bin Laden, tracking a lead that most people had given up on. It’s interesting to follow her journey; the people in her life move in and out, but she remains focused on the task at hand the entire time. Chastain actually doesn’t say very much, but when she does, she silences every room and makes anyone, friend or foe, listen. Bigelow and Boal crafted the role for Chastain, and she delivers on every front. It is a special performance.
With The Hurt Locker, Bigelow told a story set in modern war-time, but it was fictional. It was intense and action packed, but not as tight and well-rounded as Zero Dark Thirty is. The added element of this being a real story helps ZD30 immensely as well as the fact that the story is just better. This man was the most dangerous man in the world and it was a chore to find him. That makes for a great movie.
When it first screened in December, ZD30 was far and away the favourite to win every award. But controversy surrounding the torture scenes shown has all but eliminated the film from Best Picture contention. Which is a real shame.
The Best Picture is an award for the best film of the year and should not be as political as it is. Sure some scenes are anti-American, but that should not be a knock on the film. The killing of Bin Laden happened on May 1, 2011. In 18 months ZD30 was out, which is amazing in its own right and should be commended. The torture scenes are bad, but if they happened, I’m glad Bigelow and Boal made sure to have them. Better to tell an accurate story than lie to please politicians.
Like Amour, Zero Dark Thirty left me feeling uncomfortable enough that I won’t rush back to see it. But I think everyone should, at least once. It’s a long, marathon movie. But the final attack on the compound alone is worth the price of admission. Chastain’s gives one of the best performances of the year and is the only legitimate contender to Jennifer Lawrence for the Best Actress Oscar. I hope Bigelow continues to make movies like this. It takes everything she learned from The Hurt Locker and makes it better. Bigelow knows how to get everything you can out of the delicate scenario while still making an exciting film. You can’t ask for any more than that.