MOVIE REVIEW: Zero Dark Thirty

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Film: Zero Dark Thirty
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Studio: Annapurna Pictures

In 2008 when The Hurt Locker came out, audiences had not seen that visceral of a war film in a very long time, especially a film about a war that was still ongoing. Director Kathryn Bigelow, while not unheard of by any means, really burst into the scene with The Hurt Locker. But with a Best Picture, Best Director, and four other Academy Awards under her belt, the question was bound to arise: What’s next?

When Zero Dark Thirty was announced and I learned the plot was based around the search for Osama Bin Laden, two thoughts crossed my mind. One, I found it pretty lame they were cashing in on such recent events as the killing of Bin Laden. Not that the story didn’t deserve its film treatment, I just thought it was too soon and it appeared cheap to go after that so quickly. Lastly, I also thought it was kind of weird for her to go into such familiar territory so soon, and that it was a safe choice for her. Regardless, I told myself I was going to see it because I loved aesthetics of The Hurt Locker so much, and at the very least I’d have some amazing cinematography to watch for however long the running time was.

And wow did I completely underestimate Zero Dark Thirty.

Before we move any further, I want to make sure people know I was wrong about one thing: Bigelow and writer Mark Boal were not trying to cash in on the death of Bin Laden. Boal had been researching and writing the film long before Osama’s death, because he and Bigelow wanted to tell the story of one of the largest, and longest manhunts in human history. That being said, this film is hardly cheap and is as far from safe as it comes. In terms of subject matter, this is a very sensitive subject. The film is naturally hard to watch at points, but I think it’s that uncompromising truth that sets Zero Dark Thirty apart from other war films. It shows the true colors of the manhunt, and while it could have been easy to shy away from the harsh imagery, Bigelow made the conscious decision to make sure audiences saw the face of the war. There are lots of messages that a film such as Zero Dark Thirty could convey, but I think the film really does a lot of justice to the real life events. I’m sure there is gong to be a lot of controversy over the torture scenes in the film, but from both the research of Boal and my knowledge of the manhunt and war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the film is very true to the real life source.  With about ten years worth of searching to synthesize into the course of two hours and forty minutes, pacing could have definitely been a huge issue. But with slick editing, great writing, and a gorgeous documentary style aesthetic, Zero Dark Thirty flew by to me and somehow Bigelow managed to accomplish this without underdeveloped characters or dead end plot points.

While obviously you have to take some of the more cinematic and dramatized parts with a grain of salt, Zero Dark Thirty is a story about real people, with real lives. And among the fantastic cast bringing real people to life for the screen, Jessica Chastain was head and shoulders above the rest of her peers. For someone who has played nine different characters in cinema since 2010, Jessica really commanded her part as Maya. I would have loved to get a little bit more development from her coworker who tortured the Al Qaeda members, but with an already lengthy running time it’s not completely necessary. Simply put, if she doesn’t get nominated for an Academy Award at the very least, I’m not totally sure if I will have faith in the Academy anymore.

Zero Dark Thirty is a better film than The Hurt Locker, and I say that confidently. The Hurt Locker dominated the Oscars in 2008, and with five nominations this year, I have a feeling Kathryn Bigelow should make some room on her shelf for some more awards. Zero Dark Thirty is a testament to both great filmmaking and great storytelling, and audiences who want to get a fantastic narrative about the war against Al Qaeda should run to their local cinema.

SCORE:  A-

Written By: Tyler Osborne (Twitter)

 

Tyler Osborne

Live in DC, grew up in PA. I specialize in writing, filming and taking pictures about punk, pop-punk, and hardcore music, and I also have a huge background in film as well. When not on the site, i'm running my own internet radio show, ToZ's Edge Radio (www.facebook.com/tozedgeradio). I also love stage diving and goldfish.
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