Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
Nominated for 5 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Best Picture (Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Migan Ellison), Best Actress (Jessica Chastain), Best Original Screenplay (Mark Boal), and Best Film Editing (Dylan Tichenor, William Goldenberg).
Won Best Sound Editing (Paul N. J. Ottosson).
Watched February 20, 2014.
Honestly, Zero Dark Thirty is one of my favorite films from the 85th Academy Awards. The acting, the story, the editing–everything together makes an intense roller coaster of awesomeness. A lot of people are concerned about the political statements, or are distracted by the scenes depicting torture. I of course feel the emotional impact of this film like many other Americans. I feel it positively and for the most part am okay with the past of my country that the narrative portrays. I like the essence of America that the film depicts (when it comes to the Intelligence behind war), but I can understand those who do not agree politically with what this film represents and how that might cause some to dislike the movie as a whole. As most reviewers should be able to do, I will separate my personal and political opinions to dissect the film as objectively as possible.
Maya (Jessica Chastain) was recruited right out of high school to join the CIA. After 9/11, she is sent to Pakistan. Her number one job is to track Osama bin Laden. It is all she has ever done. The film opens on an interrogation sequence in which Maya is introduced to water boarding and other techniques that intelligence used on terrorists. Dan (Jason Clarke) becomes a good friend and support of hers, but is unwavering in his interviews. He shows no problem with sleep deprivation and other tactics, but has a little more emotional depth outside of the interrogation room. He and Maya trust each other early on, but he eventually heads state side when their interrogation techniques begin to become a little taboo politically. This leaves Maya to fend with Josephy Bradley (Kyle Chandler), the head of the CIA Pakistani office, on her own.
Maya is the job. She spends long days and nights at her desk and we rarely see any sort of social life from her. She seems to have one friend among her coworkers, Jessica (Jennifer Ehle), in which we see her go out for dinner one time throughout the whole film. She works for over a decade, doing nothing but tracking bin Laden. Her coworkers lose focus after London bus bombs and attacks on their home. Protect the home land becomes the motto, but this statement produces one of the most emotionally charged scenes of the film in which Maya asserts herself to Joseph, insisting that he provide her with the resources that she needs to track the most dangerous wanted man in the world.
We know from history what the end result of Maya’s dedication is. The last third of the film is all about the operation to get bin Laden, and it is eventually Maya who identifies the body. Over a decade of work to track one man–now what? I can imagine the surreal weightlessness of the situation, and the imagery of this sequence is spot on. As she identifies the body, the camera is shot up at her, showing that this is a powerful moment for Maya, and as she leaves Pakistan, the weight of what she has accomplished seems to hit her.
There are no weak points, in my opinion, to this film. The story telling is magnificent, the focus is great, the camera work is acceptable, and the sequence within bin Laden’s compound is so realstic it is impressive. Despite all of these strengths, Chastain is above and beyond all of them. Who would think that this is the same actress who played the ditzy blonde Celia Foote in The Help the year before? She is outstanding. Her character is emotionally distant and dedicated to the job, but Chastain puts humanity into her. She has a steely resolve that makes the audience have more confidence in her than her on camera superiors. She is driven and feisty–the ultimate leading lady with enough gumption for the entire cast.
The supporting cast is so sparingly used that when we come to the sequence in bin Laden’s compound and the cut aways to Maya are so few, one might think this would be too much of a change in the narrative. I actually really liked it. It is long and quiet and suspenseful. All Maya is doing is sitting on pins and needles, waiting, which is exactly what we are doing as we watch the film.
They never show bin Laden’s face. They show a trail of blood and some blurry images. They might show a beard, or a nightgown here and there, but his image is never glorified for memory. He was and is no more, and it is Maya who should be remembered for her accomplishments, not bin Laden for his terrorism.
This film is rated R and is intense. It is as much a character driven film as it is a narrative driven film. There is plenty of action, plenty of drama, and plenty of suspense. I would highly recommend this film, as it is one of my favorites.