Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up to her 2008 Best Picture winning film The Hurt Locker is a snapshot of the US war on terrorism which features a blow-by-blow reenactment of the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound and the years of CIA research that led to the mission.  Zero Dark Thirty is a well crafted look at the inner workings of the intelligence agency that blends some genuine authentic excitement and intrigue with some slow and tedious bureaucratic scenes.  You can clearly see that Bigelow feels at home in documenting American wartime conflict.

As with The Hurt Locker, the bulk of the action in this film is set in the Middle East.  The film opens with a black screen while we hear about a minute of various voicemail recordings from 9/11.  This serves as an appropriate catalyst for making sure we understand the drive to catch and serve justice against the most notorious terrorist in US history.  Throughout the first two-thirds of the movie, we are bombarded with a slew of Arab names who are all part of a giant interconnected web of terror that eventually lead the CIA to Bin Laden's courier in Pakistan.  Some of the plot gets confusing but in the end, none of the findings and leads uncovered are all that interesting considering we know that Bin Laden will be found and killed in the end.  The bulk of this movie is tailor-made for CIA/terrorism junkies and I'm just not that type of person.

Jessica Chastain is excellent as Maya, the lead analyst in the film.  She gives a very confident performance with some mixed in vulnerability when she encounters some unexpected bumps and roadblocks in her plight to catch Bin Laden.  She is without a doubt one of the best up and coming young actresses in Hollywood, but I just don't think she was nearly as strong as Jennifer Lawrence was in Silver Linings Playbook.  Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke and Jennifer Ehle round out a strong supporting cast.   (Bonus kudos to Chandler who managed to star in two of the most critically praised films of the year - Argo being the other)

I wasn't blown away by this film.  Bigelow does a great job of putting the audience directly in the squad during the raid on the compound.  The final third of this movie is extremely intense and engaging.  The realism of the squad chatter and the pop-ping-cracks of gunfire mixed with spent shell casings are some of the best I've ever seen on film.  It's clear that Bigelow knows how to stage and shoot extremely realistic combat scenes.  The problem I have with the movie is that everything leading up to the raid is plodding and frankly boring at times.  I believe this movie could have been cut down to two hours with a little better overall pacing.  I find myself feeling nearly exactly the same way about this movie as I felt about The Hurt Locker when I saw it.  Both movies are authentic snapshots of war but both films just didn't engross me that much from start to finish.  I know others (especially publications like Entertainment Weekly) believe this is the best film of 2012.  I can't say the same as I felt disappointed in the full body of work that Bigelow delivers.  I can't give Zero Dark Thirty any more than 3.5 out of 5 JRs.  This is definitely worth seeing, but mostly for the last 40 minutes of the movie.

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