Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Folks, we got him.

On May 2nd, 2011, we got him. The ringleader of one of the most horrific and unfortunately unforgettable events in U.S. history was killed. Mr. Osama bin Laden is dead. While this hasn’t starkly terminated terrorism and while I predict further issues ahead, we are certainly one step closer to ending al-Qaeda. It was one of the most liberating moments in the U.S.A. The arrival of death for a human being isn’t usually greeted with such a jovial attitude, but there it is.

Doing a film on this may not be the boldest decision ever, but it certainly is a risky one. Given the reaction of bin Laden’s death to Americans, it would be easy to delve into some shameless, pandering propaganda. I resume to quote Matt Stone and Trey Parker, “America, F*** Yeah!”

I believe the only tactful way to handle this subject would be to do a procedural that tracks the progress of the hunt for bin Laden. This film does just that. I, also, believe this project calls for a respected, competent director. Kathryn Bigelow? Hell yeah!

Starting from 2003, the film observes the advancement for the extermination of bin Laden. Given this information, the film’s central character is not Osama bin Laden. Instead, the focal point, character wise, is a CIA officer named Maya. The film is, not merely, a procedural, but also a character study on Maya and how her desire for finding bin Laden turns into a healthy yet dominant obsession and how she fully fledges into a true woman.

In order to properly portray a plucky, no-nonsense woman, one would need a praise-worthy, beautifully versatile woman. Well, Hollywood and Lifetime Television certainly has provided us with a lot of them. Jessica Chastain was chosen and she is fantastic in her role, creating one of the most memorable protagonists in movie history. She shows persuasion and an impressive acting range, switching from ferocious determination to humble, teary-eyed liberation.

Of course, the supporting cast is excellent, as well. Of the supporting cast, Jason Clarke is the standout. He infuses his character, Dan, with an ideal blend of intimidation and humility. His dynamic with Maya provides a great dichotomy of logic versus instinct, seeing how Dan uses terror tactics during the bin Laden search. Other performers such as Kyle Chandler, and, (hey!) James Gandolfini are quite good, as well.

I recall seeing the trailers for this film and was incredibly hyped for it. My first viewing left me thoroughly impressed, albeit a little restless. I appreciated its methodical, plodded pace and understood that it was a procedural, but I still had a minor request for the film to pick up the pace a little bit. While it left me tense throughout, I think I was viewing the film in the mindset of making sure the film lives up to my intense hype and I guess it somewhat fell short.

Then, I saw Bigelow’s film, The Hurt Locker, which is one of my all-time favorite films. That film really made me understand Bigelow as a filmmaker. Once I understood that, I viewed Zero Dark Thirty a second time in class and I had a deeper respect for the film. All the great qualities of The Hurt Locker (the masterful screenwriting, done once again by Mark Boal, the way Bigelow designs an anxious atmosphere for the audience, the slow tempo, the restrained yet epic use of music, the unsullied, flexible cinematography, the well-choreographed action) all transferred to this film.

The opening of the film gets it. It begins on September 11th, 2001, certainly a memorable, albeit unfortunate, period of time. However, we find ourselves looking at no captions. No visuals. Just a dark, blank screen with the sounds from 9/11 spliced in. This is the absolutely perfect and ideal way to alert the audience of what lies ahead, to evoke frightening ideas, and to sends chills down the viewer's spine faster than a crack addict sending a text message.

This film also goes further and provokes deep thought. This film has ignited heavy debate on torture tactics and the morality (or lack thereof) of them. I am personally in favor of torture tactics when they are needed. The genius of this film is that it makes an argument for both sides of the terror tactic debate without it being the central topic at hand. The aforementioned dynamic of Maya and Dan provides this non-biased argument. The film, also, provides a final 25 minute sequence that shows the climactic raid of bin Laden’s compound (spoiler, much?). Believe me when I say it’s one of the most flawlessly executed and agonizingly tense action scenes I’ve ever seen. This film establishes Kathryn Bigelow as a cinematic powerhouse. I will greet the trailers to her next film with giddy ecstasy.

RATING: Three and three-quarters stars out of four

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