In 2008 when The Hurt Locker came out and went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars, I was one of the few people in America that didn't get it. I understood the gravity of a woman, in this case Kathryn Bigelow, directing a war film like that and winning Best Director. What I didn't get was the film itself. It was good but far from great and miles from Best Picture. So when I saw that for her encore performance, Bigelow was making another film set in the same war theater, I was less than eager and the phrase "one trick pony" was galloping around my head. I was wrong and I happily admit it.
Zero Dark Thirty is the true story on how we tracked and killed Osama Bin Laden. If you're like me, you think, "Bin Laden was killed in May 2011. We're not even two years away from it. A movie seems excessive." I still don't know if I retract those thoughts but regardless, I'm glad this movie was made. I don't think anyone had any idea that the hunt for Bin Laden started so long ago and was so exhaustive. I understand that there is lots of controvery over what was actually true from the film but for the sake of this review I'll assume it all was.
Jessica Chastain (The Help, Mama) carries this entire movie on her back. She doesn't have much of a supporting cast and is instead just surrounded by a cast of characters that drift in and out of the plot, many of which are played by talented performers such as James Gandolfini (The Sopranos, Where the Wild Things Are) and Marc Strong (Sherlock Holmes, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). Chastain plays a woman (most likely ficticious) who is the one person who never gives up on the persuit of the world's most wanted terrorist. She captures the passion and intensity she has for it in a few scenes but in the rest she seems bored and surface. She's the front-runner for Best Actress this year at the Oscars and I'm not sure why.
That's not exactly all her fault though. The script by Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) is rich on details, suspense and intrigue and poor on heart, emotion or making us care about any of the characters. The good news is that the movie moves fast and builds to a really exciting conclusion; even though we know how it ends before it even starts, we move to the edge of our seat in the final twenty minutes with suspense.
Zero Dark Thirty is a rare film in that I don't think it deserves Best Director, Best Writer or Best Actress but I think it has a serious shot at Best Picture. The reason why is a lot like the way we killed Bin Laden: lots of people who were above average at their job, worked together to create a great and amazing objective. Sure there's lots of controvery surronding the accuracy or source for aquired information but taking it at face value as truth makes it pulse pounding and very docudrama. One of the best films of the year and deserves to be up for an Oscar...but just in one category.
Zero Dark Thirty (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A-