It's "The Hurt Locker II", only much more bureaucratastic, so if this film is like any "Call of Duty" installment, then it's "Call of Paperwork Duty" (That's one of the "Call of Duty" games, right?), which is surprising, because considering that this film is being taken on by Kathryn Bigelow, I couldn't help but expect it to be action-packed. Okay, maybe I wasn't so much expecting this film to deliver on plenty of action, as much as I was "hoping" that this film would deliver on plenty of action to liven things up, being that it's over two-and-a-half hours long, but hey, the final product is still good, even if it's not the most accurate period piece, because, man, the event in which this film culminates really happened not even two years ago, and yet this film is still getting to be a smidge loose with its history, though that might just be because there's no way a filmmaking team would get access to highly classified government information, no matter how incompetent Obama is. Jokes aside, this "historical" drama isn't too Hollywooded up, largely because it's an independently funded effort, but then again, this film is co-produced by Megan Ellison, the daughter of the billionaire Oracle Corp. CEO, so I guess she has the money to do whatever she wants, like make Jason Clarke a star. With "Lawless" and now this film, it would appear as though Ellison is getting Clarke some work, which is good, because he is a good actor, which makes it all that more unfortunate that, after a while, he gets to be kind of unevenly used in this film, much like most everyone else in this film outside of Jessica Chastain. Shoot, Chastain might have been a supporting role, same as everyone else, if they didn't give her the lead role because, well, this film actually centers around Chastain's Maya character, and also because it's about time that Chastain get a full-on core role in 2012 and take a break from being, at the very least, in the background of just about every film released this year. It does seem like Chastain just has to be in your film somewhere, no matter what, and hey, that's just fine with me, because the girl can act, and can sure help in carrying a film like this. Of course, Chastain can't quite carry the final product past all of its problems, because as good as this film is, not all goes according plan.
As you can probably imagine, this film, being that it is an over two-and-a-half-hour dramatic dialogue thriller, offers plenty of expository meat to characterization, though not quite as much as you would hope it would, because as intricate as this film's exposition-rich plotting is, when it comes to bonafide dramatic character development, this film leaves much to be desire, and makes character focus all the sloppier with unevenness, which leaves certain supporting characters to go pronounced heavily, occasionally to the point of aping over some of your more major characters, only to disappear for the longest time, if he or she is ever seen again, that is. This kind of focal unevenness, married with limitations within full development focus to begin with, does a number of your full investment, which goes further distanced by dry spells in this film's atmosphere, which isn't really as dry as I feared it would be, to where the film slowed down to a near-dull crawl, but decidedly leaves the bite of intrigue to go somewhat loosened, leaving you to slip out of the film at times. The film isn't simply engaging much more often than it isn't, but generally entertaining, yet there are still plenty of spots in this film that are less piercing than others, and with certain aspects of this film being with very little direct focus, you can expect to fall out of this film at times, or at least really start noticing this film's length. The film's pacing is reasonably smooth, regardless of the atmospheric dry spells and hiccups in story structure, but at the end of the day, there is no denying that this film, at nearly 160 minutes of mostly dialogue-driven intrigue, is too long, being delightfully thorough and all in its presentation of the investigation of the whereabouts of an exceedingly dangerous and crafty man who has led many a massive threat to the free world as we know it, but still with a bit of excess material that drags out the film's already pretty overdrawn momentum. As reasonably steady as this film's pacing is, part of the reason why exposition is so lacking is because the momentum of this film's actual plotting is consistent, hitting one beat after another, but still taking its sweet time to drag things out, leaving repetition to ensue, growing larger as particularly extensive engagement value grows thinner, and after a while, the film finds a bit of difficulty in fully sustaining your attention, much less the momentum needed for it to meet its full potential. The first act is so engaging and competently crafted that the film shows signs of slowly, but surely, heading into the state of bonafide excellence, and the final act isn't too shabby either, but in between these upstanding bookends is a body that, while more often than not thoroughly compelling, and never too disengaging when it's failing to sustain its grip on your investment, drags along, but still not taking as much time as it should to fully flesh things out, thus making for a worthwhile effort that still could have been and maybe even should have been more. That being said, what the final product actually is is a thriller that may not always thrill too much, but compels thoroughly and consistently, with enough intrigue to get you by as, at the very least, entertained, and it helps that this film has its share of entertaining musical touches.
When the film was first announced, you better believe that musical sharpness was nowhere near on the top of my list of expectations, and not just because I'm getting kind of tired of generic Middle East-set military film scores, but my note quickly changed when I heard that this film's score was to be composed by Alexandre Desplat and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, so you can imagine my disappointment in finding that this film's score isn't as strong as I was hoping it would be, which isn't to say that this film's score doesn't deliver on a general standard, because as conventional as Desplat's efforts are, musicality remains quite commendable, with a subtle sweep and contemporaneous spirit that supplements entertainment value, and often breathes additional life into this film's substance. Desplat's efforts are worthy and add quite a bit to the final product, even if they are somewhat underused, though on the level in which the film's action aspects are underused, because when I said that this film's intrigue is mostly dialogue driven, I wasn't kidding, as the kind of immersive war combat that we know Kathryn Bigelow can do quite well is very rarely seen, which of course makes it all the more exciting when action does finally come into play, delivering on tight tension, complimented by intriguing realism. There's really not too much style to the making of this film, and what technical punch-ups there are in the final product stand to be meatier, but make no mistake, there are some colorful additional filmmaking notes to liven up substance that, of course, doesn't need a whole lot of punch-up to be rich, for although the handling of this film's subject matter stands to be stronger, needless to say, this is indeed some gripping subject matter we're dealing with, and being that it is perhaps too relevant for its own good, strong execution of this strong story concept is needed in order to keep intrigue high. Mark Boal's script is flawed, with limited exposition, a bit too much material and, of course, too much plotting momentum, so there's not a whole lot in the way of delicate dramatic weight to this thriller, yet Boal keeps you going nevertheless, delivering on sharp dialogue to keep entertainment high, as well as narrative intricacies, with complexities and layers that may not entirely make up for the limited dramatic meat, but definately augments the intrigue value of this film's subject matter. Boal's paperwork makes this film's being driven by quite a bit of paperwork all the more forgivable, not to where the dramatic shortcomings and plotting looseness is fully compensated for, but certainly to where the film's story structure keeps you generally gripped, especially when complimented by a fair degree of color that can, in fact, be found within Boal's flawed dramatic characterization, and is made all the more rewarding by its being backed up by a compelling cast of talents, none of whom have the material to fully make up for development issues, but all of whom, to one degree or another, earn your attention, with leading lady Jessica Chastain especially engaging with her convincing and, at times, emotional portrayal of a confident and inspired young woman who is obsessed with her mission to do away with a fiercely threatening force, and will find that the road to achieving her mission will be paved with frustration and even harsh realities she didn't fully anticipate. Chastain puts about as much as she can into this role that is with its share of natural shortcomings, and ultimately stands as a compelling female driving force for this film, though not the only one, because when it's all said and done (Ha-ha, I rhymed), this is Kathryn Bigelow's film, and while she's not pumping you up like she did in "The Hurt Locker", this film wouldn't be as gripping as it is without Bigelow's efforts, which often fault in a fashion that dilutes the kick of this film's momentum, but generally keeps pacing reasonably smooth in a kind of documentary fashion, to where you're investment is eased in by a reasonable degree of liveliness, and secured by Bigelow's atmosphere, which ranges from quite engaging to deeply tense. Were this film tighter, dramatically meatier and handled by a director who has most, if not all of the strengths of Bigelow, and not so many of the problems (David Fincher should do everything), it would have truly been as upstanding as its first act made it seem as though it was going to be, but what it ultimately is still boasts enough intrigue and inspiration for you to walk away entertained, with quite a bit too chew on, and ultimately rewarded.
When the hunt ends, you're left wishing that this promising project boasted more in the way of character development, as well as more evenness in character focus, and less dryness in atmosphere, though not quite as much as you're wishing that the film would be tighter, with more focused and less repetitious momentum, thus leaving this film to fall short of what it could have been, though not so short that it doesn't still accel as rewarding, with decent score work and the occasional gripping action sequence to color up substance that is consistently compelling, thanks to the value of its subject matter, handled reasonably well in execution by Mark Boal's clever and intricate script, as well as carried by a talented cast - headed by a particularly compelling Jessica Chastain - and the gripping directorial performance by Kathryn Bigelow that does about as much as anything in making "Zero Dark Thirty" a generally entertaining and consistently engaging study on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
3/5 - Good