I recently had the pleasure of viewing director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter and writer Mark Boal's Zero Dark Thirty, a pseudo-representation of the decade-long search to find and kill Osama bin Laden. I was delighted to discover the film to be a great follow-up effort to 2008's The Hurt Locker, which featured both the same writer and director. I'd rate both movies a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Films Motivated by Obsession and Violence
Both films seem to follow characters that have an obsession with work. Zero Dark Thirty's protagonist is, refreshingly, a female CIA agent named Maya, played expertly by Jessica Chastain. This is the first movie I've seen her in, but she came out of nowhere and starred in six movies in 2011 and four in 2012. If all else fails, you can rest your eyes on her (oh, redheads!), but her character isn't sexualized in the slightest. As I stated, she's obsessed with finding bin Laden, admitting that her entire career with the CIA has been spent searching for the infamous perpetrator of the 9/11 tragedy. Unless, of course, you're a 9/11 conspiracy believer, in which case, shame on you.
If you're expecting non-stop action and explosives, Zero Dark Thirty isn't for you. Instead, the film is a slow-burner, displaying the hard work and dedication that goes into military intelligence (two words combined that can't make sense according to Dave Mustaine). Maya's life is in constant danger as she gets closer and closer to discovering the home of bin Laden's courier, who seems to be the key to finding bin Laden's hiding space. The push against the idea that he would be hiding in plain sight seems to be the main conflict against Maya. She also struggles to deal with torture policies used for interrogation, and the policy of protecting the homeland first.
A Beautiful, Stylistic Film that Makes You Think
Zero Dark Thirty is a beautiful film, with a moderate budget that is well used. I believe they shot in India for many scenes, and the results are great. Moderate "shaky cam" is also present during the film's action scenes and the tense finale, which utilizes night vision in an enthralling manner. We all know the results of Seal Team 6's raid on the camp, but it's still a tense final twenty minutes or so. The film ends with Chastain's character crying on a plane as she travels to, well, not her home. She doesn't seem to have one. Perhaps she's realizing just what she lost to, ultimately, kill one man - a life dedicated to violence and revenge has left her noticeably alone.
Much has been made of the film's torture scenes, which mostly occur early on. The idea that Zero Dark Thirty is pro torture is patently ridiculous - note the career path that the initial torturer, Dan (Jason Clarke), takes. Dan feeding ice cream to his monkeys was a telling scene, showcasing what the man would really rather be doing, though he might also view the interrogations as necessary. Certainly, there doesn't seem to be an easy answer to torture.
Zero Dark Thirty is my second favorite film of 2012, though I haven't seen Argo, behind only Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom. Jessica Chastain was great, and deserves an Oscar for her role playing an intelligent, determined CIA intelligence officer. The movie made me think, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.