Posted by Sean van der Heijden
I feel the need to frame this review by saying that I hated Kathryn Bigelow's other collaboration with Mark Boal, 'The Hurt Locker.' I mean, seriously, I hated it-it's one of my least favorite movies ever. With that in mind, I was hesitant about seeing 'Zero Dark Thirty', mainly because I thought it would turn out just as bad, but I couldn't have been further from the truth. It was incredible.
One aspect that made it such a fascinating film was simply the gravity of the topic Bigelow chose to deal with: the hunt for Osama bin Laden. At certain points in the film, there was so much tension that you knew something terrible was about to happen-and, oftentimes, this tension would explode into a horrifying catastrophe or a shocking breakthrough. This uneasiness is due to Bigelow's exceptional handiwork with the camera, as everything is presented in a realistic, almost documentary-like style.
And, believe me, you will need no convincing to feel the reality of the situation. Mark Boal's screenplay, although at times rather choppy in its display of events, has incredible dialogue and boldly immerses you in the film. More than once, I forgot that I was watching a movie. This is in part because many of the events did happen, if only slightly differently, and you can trace them through time all the way from September 11, 2001 to May 2, 2011, when the hunt finally came to an end.
However, the biggest factor in the film's success is Jessica Chastain, who gives a stellar performance as Maya, the CIA agent who dedicated ten years of her life to track down bin Laden. Her dynamic ability to be subtle yet appear to be under great amounts of stress deserves to be applauded. Also, she never looked as if she was acting, which is incredibly hard to do. Even in some of the greatest performances, you realize that it is just an actor on set saying their lines with emotion. The thing is, Chastain didn't even look like she had lines to say-she just blended in perfectly with the atmosphere of the film, speaking up when she needed to, and doing it perfectly.
Another performance that stood out was Jennifer Ehle as CIA agent Jessica, who fiercely tries to assist Maya in her search for potential terrorists. She, too, was flawless and completely immersed within her character. Jason Clarke's treacherous CIA torturer Dan was also a fascinating character as he was able to switch so quickly between being nice to being downright scary. Lastly, Mark Strong's CIA leader George makes a bold entrance into the film and keeps the momentum going throughout.
Overall, despite the fact that the first 45 minutes of the film literally consist of Clarke and Chastain's characters brutally torturing various people in an attempt to extract information, 'Zero Dark Thirty' quickly accelerates from there and turns into a tense, dark search for one man that gives an interesting perspective into how our government functions. Everything from Greig Fraser's vibrant cinematography to Alexandre Desplat's haunting score is exceptional, and even if you didn't like 'The Hurt Locker', this film is definitely worth the watch.
'Zero Dark Thirty' came out on Blu-ray and DVD on March 19.