Nick's Review of Zero Dark Thirty
Zero Dark Thirty(2013)
"Zero Dark Thirty" gets away with a lot. It is a movie of time, of pacing, patience, and unbeatable, unbelievable tensions. Frills and other such bullshit don't even make it past the gate - the movie opens flat-out on a minutes-long black screen beneath the sounds of screams, sirens, and eventually silence of audiotapes from September 11th, 2001. Jump two years later and there's our eyes and ears for the rest of the film in Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA officer sent to the U.S. embassy in Pakistan to work with someone whose mission right then is to squeeze information from a captive with potential ties to a Saudi terrorist system. We're with Maya in exciting a nerve of discomfort when her compatriot feels necessary to strip him down soiled pants and all before being choked into a dog collar and led to cramp inside a small wooden box. But in "Zero Dark Thirty" even the most gruesome torture tactics aren't lost on any one individual fighting for or against God and country - he's all our prisoner in the War on Terror's if-you're-not-with-us-you're-against-us philosophy, and any lead is proof enough it's worth it to reap what we sow. Good and bad.
"Zero Dark" was written and directed by Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, respectively, both of whose "Hurt Locker" took home six Oscars in 2010, including best picture over the biggest movie in the world at the time (and of all time), James Cameron's "Avatar". From 2003 to 2005 Maya's confidence and beleaguered obsession grows roots in scrambling to connect alien suspects to who's predicted to be Osama bin Laden's go-to courier from wherever he's hiding out. I don't want to spoil too much, only to say Boal's script spans major attacks, disasters and all sorts of bombings with impassioned nuance, and each highlight, if later revealed for partial clues, also checkpoints and renews the maddening vertigo and impartial anxiety of the senses at the center of everything. Like I said at the beginning, "Zero Dark Thirty" does get away with a lot - half-formed characters and relationships, distracting cameos. That's nit picking. Its heart of darkness is in the tireless Maya, Chastain with whiz-bang spunk. The story's corners are testament to the hardship and ferocity of a case so big stopping or slowing down could permanently dismiss yet-unexplained pieces as idyll fevers and mirrors.
"Zero Dark Thirty" is also strong evidence for Bigelow's being a new master. This is filmmaking with guts and rings, valiant and magnificent, that's also ultimately a character- (and, do note dearly, female-) driven piece concerning the morality and consequence of directive anger and retribution in the wake of raw public sentiment. It's also a movie about a woman who dared bear the weight of fatal attraction. Her distress stirs true for all of us, but especially to those to whom sacrifice can sometimes strike less as star-crossed than forlorn.