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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty - Movie Review




In Zero Dark Thirty, we wear the shoes of CIA analyst Maya as she with an ensemble of different people go on a decade long pursuit for al-Qaeda terrorist Osama Bin Laden after the events of 9/11 up to his momentous and eventual death.

Zero Dark Thirty starts off with a very contained and chilling scene where nothing is on screen except some soundbites from the 9/11 attacks. At that point I knew this movie may have garnered all that hype for a reason. For the most part, the movie did fill some of my expectations but just fell short in some important things from which I think may add to the movie.

The story and script was great. It had a lot of detail in it and it is apparent that the scriptwriters wanted to include every event, every conflict and every conversation possible for a theatrical release. I, for one, do not know much about these string of events but I followed most of the details pretty easily because of the great writing and dialogue. But with the sheer amount of content to deliver the movie felt pretty long in the tooth. I guess I can attribute this to its very contained and conserved approach but you can't help but feel that some parts dragged too much.

Jessica Chastain called and she wants another best actress award.

The build up to certain events are unbelievably long with little pay off. There may also be some scenes which I would have preferred tightened or cut out but would still maintain the intended integrity of the pacing. With that, the movie falls flat with pacing. It is incredibly well written no doubt, but the wait from one important event to another is filled with minor filler which could have been shortened or presented direct to the point. But then again, that is the nature of this movie. It is based on real events and you can't modify these events heavily without sparking some sort of controversy for the sake of saving viewers from boredom. But I repeat, it wasn't boring, it simply felt like it didn't need to run that long to be effective.

I say that because of the great directing and cinematography. On one side, it may seem like industry standard filmmaking but in the end, you kind of feel surprised and relieved that the directing worked. When the scenes were heavy, the tension was off the charts. And when that tension grips you, it grips you hard. Kathryn Bigelow, aside from the direction of the movie feeling a tad familiar, the way she transformed a well written and intelligent script into a very contained and professional film was stellar.

Lots of different characters with very little substance.

This is due in part to the great acting by Jessica Chastain and company. This can very well be titled Jessica Chastain: The Movie and could get away with it. Maya easily outplays all other actors in this one. The way she transformed from first seeing torture, to the one doing the torture, to being the prime intelligence expert who found and killed Bin Laden all in the comfort of her own office was a sight to see. But I can't help but feel that the movie also suffered from this focus on the woman who put together all the pieces. Zero Dark Thirty featured an ensemble cast but they were very underused and underdeveloped. They had actors like Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler and Joel Edgerton. They even had Mark Duplass on board who in my opinion is one of the best actors of this generation. But they had very little screen time and some decent dialogue. But in the end, you couldn't care less about them.

Just to get this off my chest, I cannot believe Jessica Chastain who played Maya in this movie also played Celia Foote in The Help. Throughout the the movie I had this lingering thought or debate in my mind analyzing if this uptight, feisty and amazing CIA analysis was the crazy, quirky and cute Celia Foote. Turns out she was. Her range when it comes to acting surprised me.

Silence proves to be a very powerful storytelling device in this movie.

One really important thing to say is that the last 30 minutes were on of the most tense scenes in any movie. But the best thing about it is it was conserved and therefore honest. No jaw dropping effects, no amazing CG setpieces. Just purely intense build up until the very moment OBL dies.

The movie also ended on a very mature note. We do not see traditional celebration. We did not get upbeat rap music to end everything with. We end simply with a shot of Maya. She did not show any sign of happiness. It was a confusing mix of relief and sadness. A decade long hunt finally meets its end. But you can't help but inquire: was this more of a triumph for freedom or a loss for humanity? Have we really become an intelligent species that kills to attain peace? But then again maybe it is the only option and people like Maya just need to deal with it. And she did on that day, "zero dark thirty".

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