Theatrical Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Director Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for her skills with her last film The Hurt Locker which also won an Oscar for Best Picture and deservedly so. so how does she choose to follow that up? With nothing less than the hunt and trackdown of Osama Bin Laden himself…

Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden as seen through the eyes of a CIA operative named here as Maya. It covers a period of nearly ten years (from the tragedy of 9/11 to finding Bin Laden and while I’m sure certain events are compressed or altered, this still feels extremely authentic. This isn’t exactly as emotionally effective a film as The Hurt Locker was, Zero Dark Thirty is way more clinical and procedural, but it’s still very impressive and certainly worthy of it’s Oscar nomination.

While I described the film as being more on the procedural side, it still has it’s emotional moments- chief among them being a scene between Maya and a CIA chief With Maya making certain demands. This is a really terrific scene between actors Jessica Chastain and Kyle Chandler and it’s dramatics are way more real than theatrical. I saw this scene and though Chastain’s performance here is stellar all around, to me this had to be the scene that cinched the Oscar nomination for her.

I think the whole movie is compelling viewing, but where it really got to me was watching the actual operation go down in the end when Seal Team 6 takes out Bin Laden. This isn’t shown in a typical Hollywood theatrical manner, and as such, I think it makes the scene even more tense.

One of the criticisms that I’ve read about Zero Dark Thirty elsewhere (which I don’t share), is that there was a “lack of character development.” Zero Dark Thirty isn’t that kind of movie at all, there aren’t huge character arcs here where people go on self-discovery or learn tremendous lessons in the end. This is about a group of dedicated, highly competent professionals doing their duty for their country. Bigelow’s approach is indeed more matter-of-fact with this, and the film does have character moments, but they’re just not the focus. Obviously much has been said as well about the torture scenes at the start of the film and how the film is “an endorsement of torture” which just isn’t the case at all, though I guess the argument can be made that just by showing it, they’re endorsing it. I don’t exactly subscribe to that and think this talk of boycotting the film for Oscar consideration because of that is ridiculous.

Already, we do know that Zero Dark Thirty has been nominated for an Oscar and it’s certainly worthy of that nomination. Will it win? I tend to think that’s doubtful. It is a terrific film, no doubt about that, but I don’t necessarily think it’s as effective as say The Hurt Locker was at getting it’s audience as involved. It’s a more passive experience, but certainly still effective and highly recommended.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

19. January 2013 by Darren Goodhart
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