Zero Dark Thirty
Release date: December 19, 2012
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenplay by: Mark Boal
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Duplass, Chris Pratt, Joel Edgerton, James Gandolfini
If Zero Dark Thirty opened with a bunch of gun-wielding Americans yelling “RAH RAH AMERICA” while talking about how angry they were post 9/11, things might have gone better, but sadly, it doesn’t.
Bigelow’s widely praised look at the recent killing of Osama bin Laden kicks off with an uncomfortable audio recording of the events of September 11th. It’s an incredibly manipulative way to start off a film, especially when it cuts immediately to a series of torture sequences. It is here we are introduced to Maya (Chastain), a reluctant CIA operative whose life soon becomes completely focused on uncovering the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.
Considering Zero Dark Thirty is one of the few female-led films up for Best Picture, I have to say I was hoping for more. Jessica Chastain does a fine job in her role as Maya, but it’s a fairly limited role that mostly involves her pacing and looking stressed out. Her character starts off with the potential of being interesting, but the deeper she gets into her hunt, the less she matters and the less we care about her hunt.
Another big problem that Mark Boal’s screenplay has is that it doesn’t bother giving any of the other characters any semblance of development. There’s a fine collection of actors, sure, and it’s got some interesting conversations and a few scenes that are packed in with tension, but it’s mostly just boring and predictable. Where The Hurt Locker had an interesting character study in Renner’s character, Zero Dark Thirty can’t even muster up enough real development in Maya to be considered one.
The one aspect that Kathryn Bigelow’s movie does impress in is her ability to make some really great technical decisions. We may have seen a few things back in The Hurt Locker, but there’s plenty of new and interesting stuff here, like the night raid that was partly shot with night vision. It’s not perfect, but it’s claustrophobic, depressing, and ultimately a pretty smart way to shoot the scene instead of making it some beautifully shot scene with perfect lighting and grandiose music and all that jazz. The scenes where Alexandre Desplat’s original score was heavily featured though reminds everyone exactly why Desplat’s best work is when he’s making filler music for something like Moonrise Kingdom.
No matter what the critics say, Zero Dark Thirty is far from Kathryn Bigelow’s best. It’s a well-made movie that doesn’t quite know how to fill its two and a half hour running length and isn’t all that engaging either. Bigelow’s recent career may not be the shining bundle of action many of us had hoped for, but at least we’ll always have Point Break.