Saturday, January 12, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty review; a controversial, and amazing example of film making

"The greatest manhunt in history".  Is there a better way to describe the CIA's mission to find Osama Bin Laden?  The man behind the September 11th attacks, who lead the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.  The film was planned, even before the May 2011 capture of Bin Laden.  The real life events proved to be far more spectacular than anything Hollywood could have dreamed up.  Taking on the challenge of directing this masterpiece?  The first woman ever to win an Academy Award for directing, Katheryn Bigelow.  Zero Dark Thirty is the film.  Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Story
The way Navy Seal Team Six brought down the F.B.I.'s most wanted man in the world, was incredible in and of itself.  We all watched the aftermath of the raid on the Pakistani compound, and cheered with joy.  It was a huge victory for our great country.  We learned about some of the events leading up to the capture.  Zero Dark Thirty chronicles it beautifully.  The movie follows Maya (played by Jessica Chastain).  She is a CIA rookie who becomes obsessed with finding the most wanted terrorist in the world.

Moving at a very swift pace; every important detail leading the CIA to Bin Laden is covered.  It is easy to follow and shows the good and the bad involved in solving a case like this.  The credit really must go to Mark Boal.  Boal was Bigelows partner on this project from the beginning.  How fitting they were both nominated for Academy Awards for this film, earlier this week (Boal for Original Screenplay/ Boal and Bigelow for Best Picture).  Boal won the academy award two years ago for writing The Hurt Locker.  Bigelow took home the gold for Directing and Best Picture.

The Acting
Jessica Chastain transforms, right before our eyes.  At the beginning of the film, she is a wide eyed rookie.  She is naive to the methods of the CIA.  We watch her character research, and obsess over every possible lead involving Bin Laden's whereabouts.  She because a force to be reckoned with by the third act.  By that time in the film, she no longer requests anything; she demands.  She is so confident in her findings, no one will stop her from finding Bin Laden.  It is a great performance that will definitely stand the test of time.

The supporting cast is great.  Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler and Mark Strong give superb performances in their supporting roles.  While the three actors were all great, this is Chastain's show.  She is the driving force behind the film's narrative.

The Reality
It's a funny thing about controversial films.  They attract a lot of attention because someone is either upset or offended at what they saw onscreen.  Anyone remember Passion of the Christ?  Zero Dark Thirty is controversial because of graphic scenes depicting the torture of detainees.  I don't want this to become a political post, so I will just say this... we know there was torture to detainees.  They have been covered, extensively, by the media.  If these things happened, right or wrong, why is it so bad that they are being depicted onscreen?  That's the real question.  Now the U.S. Senate wants to tell the American people that the torture was not the only thing that led to vital information.  We may never know the truth.

It was only a year and a half ago Bin Laden was killed.  These events are still fresh in the minds of many many people.  The movie reminded me a lot of United 93.  Zero Dark Thirty does what United 93 did, it shows how important the collection of information can be.  The settings are real, the situations are real, and THAT, makes this film even more relevant.

Call them a power couple if you want; these two work beautifully together.  I read story after story about the making of this film.  Boal was meticulous in his research for the film.  And was on the set, day in and day out; assisting Bigelow with every facet of the story.  The pacing, editing and camera work, is where Bigelow really shines.  Much like she did with The Hurt Locker, she builds the tension and suspense in a scene until it explodes (figuratively and literally). She is such a talented director, I'm upset with the Academy for not recognizing this brilliant piece of film making   She may have missed out on a Best Director nomination, but she may still win the big prize... Best Picture.

The Climax
Let me tell you something, the climax of the film is one of the best I've seen in my entire life.  Much as it was in real life, the raid on the compound is the culmination of a lot of build up.  Bigelow captures the raid perfectly.  The screen is dark as night; yet surprisingly, we can see exactly what is happening.  The reproduction of the compound is beautiful, and beautifully shot.  The choreography and staging of Navy Seal Team Six was perfect.  I was literally on the edge of my seat the last 30 minutes of the film.  Never mind the fact we know exactly how the film is going to end, it still had my heart pumping.  These are the types of movies that keep me excited for more real life stories yet to be told on the big screen.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Score
Alexandre Desplat is a FIVE TIME Oscar Nominee.  He is terrific at what he does.  But I was very disappointed with the score in this film.  I can't remember any of it immediately leaving the cinema.  I know sometimes this is purposefully done, but I don't think that was the case with this film.  The irony?  Desplat is nominated for an Academy Award this year for another film dealing with a Mid-East conflict... Argo.  Like I said, he is normally an amazing composer, just not here in my opinon.

The Verdict:
The Best Stories, are the Real Ones
Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, United 93, Schindler's List.  What do they all have in common?  Oscar Nominated films based on real life events.  That's just four examples, the list goes on and on.  The point is, regardless how long ago the real life events took place, the stories are forever.  The Social Network chronicled Mark Zuckerberg's rise to fame, just a few years after the true to life events occurred.  Zero Dark Thirty was released yesterday, a mere 20 months after the real life events that inspired it.  The movie is a top contender for Best Picture in this year's Oscar race.  And while I am yet to see Lincoln, I would say Zero Dark Thirty has a pretty damn good chance of winning it all.

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