ZERO DARK THIRTY
*** (out of 5)
December 19, 2012
Jessica Chastain as MAYA
Jason Clarke as DAN
Joel Edgerton as PATRICK
Mark Strong as GEORGE
Chris Pratt as JUSTIN
Kyle Chandler as JOSEPH BRADLEY
Jennifer Ehle as JESSICA
Directed by: Kathyrn Bigelow
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I know people are making not-quite-relevant comparisons between “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Argo,” but aside from a Middle Eastern setting and some government shenanigans, there’s very little similarity between the two movies. Instead, people should be comparing Kathyrn Bigelow’s new film to her Oscar-winning flick “The Hurt Locker.”
For better or for worse.
While I enjoyed “The Hurt Locker” to a degree, it was not my favorite of that year. In my mind, it didn’t even come close to being the best film of the year, as honored by various critic organizations from local clubs to the Academy.
“Zero Dark Thirty” both suffers from and benefits from the same things that “The Hurt Locker” did. This bodes well for Bigelow, who has already won some awards for it and is primed for quite a few Oscar nominations. However, for someone like me, this wasn’t as great of a movie as it could have been.
“Zero Dark Thirty” is, in short, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden after 9/11. However, it’s also about the personal mission of government operative named Maya (Jessica Chastain) to put a nail in his coffin. The first two-thirds of the movie follow Maya’s passionate search for the terrorist leader. It begins with her learning the ugly truth of how information is gathered, and it follows her through the near-10-year manhunt where she has accepted how to get things done.
The best part of the film comes in the final act when the assault actually takes place on bin Laden’s compound. Here’s where Bigelow shines because she doesn’t sensationalize the events. It’s not a traditional action movie that feeds on explosions and yelling. In some ways, it reminds me of “Act of Valor,” which strove to get things accurate from a strategic and technical perspective. However, even that movie sensationalized a lot of things (in particular the motivations and hero worship of the military personnel).
Real life is rarely as dramatic and impactful as Hollywood’s adaptation of it is. Bigelow goes low-key into the raid, and it shows both the good and the bad that come from it. We see unfortunate and difficult decisions made, and we also see the impact of these decisions. That serves the film well, and it gives a strong, somber tone to the film.
My issues with “Zero Dark Thirty” don’t come from the ending but rather from the first two-thirds of the film. Bigelow takes her time showing the ins and outs of the search for bin Laden. As accurate as this probably is, it’s fiercely confusing to a big, dumb American like myself who barely can differentiate between some country and city names, let alone get bogged down in the nuances of terrorists’ real names versus their military names.
In short, the film gets confusing and meanders too much in the first part. I felt like I needed a scorecard and golf pencil to accompany the movie to keep things in order. (Plus, we all know that they eventually find bin Laden, don’t we?)
The other problem with the movie is its star Jessica Chastain. She handles the role well, but like all other female characters in Bigelow’s movies, Maya is just a dude with breasts. She seems too staged at times, and Bigelow lays on her emotions a little too thick for her obvious Oscar clips.
There are a few other times that Bigelow strays from the murkiness of realism to get really Hollywood with the events, and compared to the rest of the film, these moments are even more noticeable.
Still, “Zero Dark Thirty” is an important film for our nation’s soul. It gives context to the manhunt, and it lets us experience it for catharsis and closure.