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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Holiday Hangover: Zero Dark Thirty (DJ's Take)

IMPORTANT
Zero Dark Thirty is not just a film.  To me, it is a bookend to one of the greatest American tragedies in history.  It serves as our first real glimpse into the events leading up to May 2, 2011.  Some may argue that Zero Dark Thirty, as a film, is overrated.  Some may argue that Zero Dark Thirty, as a historical chronicle, is inaccurate.  However, you would be hard pressed to say that Zero Dark Thirty is not IMPORTANT.

Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatic account of the decade long search and capture of Osama bin Laden.  A subject that IMPORTANT was a cinch to rile up a debate on how to properly portray it.  Some might expect a kick-ass, romanticized war epic leading to a balls to the wall Seal assault on that compound in Abbottabad.  Thirty isn't that type of film at all.  It is about the slow, grueling process government officials had to go through in order to finally pull the trigger on bin Laden.  It isn't romantic or fun.  It isn't fast paced or action packed.  And as recent criticisms have suggested, it is controversially disturbing right from the beginning.  But that is the film's point.  The steps our government and military take to accomplish their goals are almost unfathomable for a regular person.  Especially when you account for the small amount of fanfare or celebration they enjoy when a mission is actually accomplished.   The nuances of governmental decision making, puzzle solving, tactical strategies, and yes, torture, are the compelling pieces to this compelling film. 

The moment I heard the announcement of Osama bin Laden's death, I knew a film about it had to be made.  And as more of the details about the mission's circumstances surfaced, I knew how great of a film it could be.  My mind immediately went to hoping Kathryn Bigelow would helm it.  Bigelow had already made and been honored for her stellar film The Hurt Locker.  As chance had it, she was already developing a film about the search for bin Laden before he was killed.  And after watching Zero Dark Thirty, I can't think of anyone who could have handled this film better.  Bigelow just knows how to shoot this material.  Much like the way Scorsese knows how to shoot gangster films or Tim Burton knows how to shoot...um...weird films.  She immerses the audience in this world and doesn't give them room to flinch.  Every scene, every interaction between characters feels like she's pulled the covers off of something we shouldn't be allowed to watch.  The fact that she has already won an Oscar for directing the similarly styled Hurt Locker is the ONLY REASON she isn't a frontrunner again for Zero Dark Thirty. 

Jessica Chastain is a revelation in this film.  Especially for me.  I had only recently been familiar with her work in Lawless and The Help.  However, my unpreparedness worked well for loving the main character of Maya.  She is a stone cold, no nonsense, sh*t kicker that takes everyone by surprise from start to finish.  It is so hard to portray that type of woman in a film and not come off as wooden or boring.  See January Jones for further evidence.  Despite Chastain's cold demeanor, however, you can tell that there is still an angry, emotional wreck underneath.  Chastain allows it to peak out at just the right moments.  Even with a cast of constantly solid actors like Mark Strong, Jason Clarke, James Gandolfini, and Chris Pratt, Chastain shines the brightest.

As the award season approaches, Zero Dark Thirty is starting to pull away as a favorite in many categories.  Despite my praise, I don't think it is the best picture of the year.  This is only due to entertainment reasons.  It isn't paced or put together the way an audience might find traditionally appealing.  Though, Zero Dark Thirty is undoubtedly a must watch.  A film that we will look back on and debate for years as to whether it properly captured such an IMPORTANT time in our nation's history.  Watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.


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