Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 9.3/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012) - Kathryn Bigelow

Osama bin Laden is dead. Justice has been done. Now experience the story behind this justice. Experience the greatest manhunt in history.

Reuniting the Oscar-winning team that presented The Hurt Locker in 2009, Zero Dark Thirty is a spy thriller that takes off with great courage, telling the interior hunt to track down America's most wanted. Originally planned to be titled For God and Country, the film's title was changed to Zero Dark Thirty, spy jargon for "half past midnight," which was the time of bin Laden's death.

During initial stages of the 9/11 attack, one narrative suggested that bin Laden is in a random cave in Afghanistan. As years go by, our CIA agent protagonist Maya (Jessica Chastain) remains loyal to her belief that bin Laden is out in the open, in contrast to living in hiding. With a two and a half hour running time, the entire film of Zero Dark Thirty is the tracing of several leads that convince Maya that she is one step closer to bin Laden. In addition, the film demonstrates a thinner plotline of people working alongside Maya and people who do not believe in her. Nevertheless, we see her motivation, her determination, and to quote one of the characters, "her confidence."

Jessica Chastain, though not my favorite actress, plays the best lead for this kind of story. A very clever move, Zero Dark Thirty provides the audience an ingenious subtext -- a subtext about the contrast between males and females. The males focus on high tech more, working in teams and attracted to torturing victims. Maya, however, pursues the entire subject the way a female would, with emphasis on intelligence and pure smartful thinking. In combining Chastain portraying Maya with a terrific script to flesh out her dialogue, we are given another highly memorable movie herione in years. Similar to a young Meryl Streep, Jessica Chastain will win the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. I gurantee it. In addition to Chastain's talent and variety, I pay great respect not only to Kathryn Bigelow, but also screenwriter Mark Boal, who accomplished a script that I never would have seen possible for a film like Zero Dark Thirty.

Inevitably, the film received heavy controversy on its portrayals of torture. In all seriousness, they were not the most disturbing. Believe me, if David Fincher came and did the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, there would be some real controversy. Though the torture scenes themselves were not presented in the most explicit way, I did believe they were done too many times. Seeing it three times is fine. Seeing it twice as much is a little too much.

In contrast to The Hurt Locker, which is set in a much larger scale (Iraq War), Zero Dark Thirty comes forth with a much narrower substance, where the narrative is specifically and only about the hunt for bin Laden. As a result, the film as a whole does not flow with much of a plot, and there are many moments that lack great filmmaking. However, Bigelow does impress with her directing talent, taking the film to some places that the audience might not predict. In agreement with Roger Ebert, Bigelow has seemingly become a directorial herione, parallel to Maya's character. To quote Ebert, this may be why "[Zero Dark Thirty] is winning even more praise than her masterful Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker."

In this critic's opinion, it is best not to compare Zero Dark Thirty to The Hurt Locker, especially if you have already seen Hurt Locker and are expecting something similar here. The two films are stylistically different. The compound raid moments in Zero Dark Thirty are completely different from the action scenes in The Hurt Locker. On the contrary, I do believe that the 2009 Best Picture winner is indeed a superior film done by Kathryn Bigelow. It relied a lot more on gritty filmmaking, where everything from plot to characters all come in play, along with skillful editing and pacing. Furthermore, as much as I admire the realism and thrills of Zero Dark Thirty, it bears an emotional detachment from its audience. Instead of a film that uses filmmaking techniques to compel the audience, Bigelow's newest film is more of a history window for us to observe, and that is all. The film displays torture scenes without taking any moral stand on it, nor does it explore the substance of al-Qaeda. If you are trying to get something more out of the literal subject like you did before in The Hurt Locker, you will not find it here.

In terms of a simplistic film with a simplistic story, Zero Dark Thirty relentlessly delivers in the most unique presentation ever. It is similar to a documentary but without the persuasion techniques. To quote TIME Magazine, this piece is "movie journalism that snaps and stings." What originally felt like a wheezy attempt to snatch the Oscars now has become a powerful end result of a film. But heads up. This is not a war film. You can find that in Hurt Locker. This is not a film about 9/11 either. You can find that in United 93. This is a story about a persistent female on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, working in a male-driven field. It is a story where you are meant to admire Maya, who is definitely a real character.

In conclusion, Zero Dark Thirty is filmmaking at its grittiest and most brilliant, with an exquisitely crafted script, a terrific final act, and a magnetizing performance by Jessica Chastain. A powerful and riveting tale, the film not only tells the historical hunt for Public Enemy #1, but it also tells the commitment and tenacity of the military, government, and all of the Maya's in the community who refused to stop until Osama bin Laden is found. As Zero Dark Thirty comes to a close, one cannot help but combine the determination of the American people with the talent of the American filmmakers.

Osama bin Laden is dead. Justice has been done.


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