Zero Dark Thirty [2012]

4starsandahalf (1)

zero dark thirty fan posterDirected by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramírez, Kyle Chandler, James Gandolfini, Fares Fares, Chris Pratt, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Duplass

Let me get a few things out of the way. I really don’t care if this was the actual way things happened. Zero Dark Thirty is not a documentary and it never said it was. Whether there’s truth to the claim that it’s “based on firsthand accounts of actual events” we can’t know for sure, but those accounts are no more than basis and inspiration for a work of fiction.

I’m also sick of all the pro-torture talk. Kathryn Bigelow, the film’s director, said it perfectly: “…depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could ever portray inhumane practices”. Besides, we all know some (if not most) of the information that led to the killing of Bin Laden was achieved through torture. Let’s not delude ourselves.

The omission of Bigelow from the ‘Best Director’ race at the Oscars will never cease to baffle me. She has delivered one of the finest cinematic pieces of the year and she will never get due recognition for her ballsy, committed work. At least the sharp script by Mark Boal did get into one of the writing categories.

This riveting drama sets itself apart from other similar movies in that it gives us a fascinating character we can care for, amid the chaos and dead ends of the chase for Bin Laden. We truly get to care for Maya (or at least I did), even if sometimes we don’t agree with her methods (or at least I didn’t), and Jessica Chastain does a terrific job at bringing her to life. I don’t think there are many actresses that could say cheesy lines like “I’m going to smoke everyone involved in this op and then I’m going to kill bin Laden” with a straight face and manage to keep an air of authority, not to mention being considered one of the standout performers of the year.

Much has been said about the climactic sequence of this film. How it’s an exhilarating thrill ride and an adrenaline rush and that type of stuff. I don’t agree. While it did get my heart racing a bit, I never felt the Navy SEALs faced any considerable opposition or a real threat; there was no palpable sense of danger. I was much more invested in everything that came before that: Bigelow’s directing, Boal’s writing and Chastain’s acting, all their work condensed in the commanding Maya. When she left the picture for a while, and it was the guys’ time to shine, I missed her, and I could’ve traded the final shootout for any of her tense meetings and interrogations. That, I think, is the mark of a great character.