4YE’s Big Movie Binge: Zero Dark Thirty

Credit: Columbia Pictures

In 2012, director Kathryn Bigelow brought an important part of American history to the big screen in the form of Zero Dark Thirty. For Bigelow, directing this film would bring her another Oscar nomination though she lost which is a shame because the film, starring Jessica Chastain, deserved every award it was nominated for. It was a tense, well-written film that should be seen at least once in your life.

Zero Dark Thirty chronicles the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden following the devastating terror attacks on September 11, 2001. The film focuses on Maya (Chastain), an entry-level CIA analyst who dedicated her entire life, forgoing very many friends and relationships, to the hunt.  Through the movie, we meet Dan (Jason Clarke), who uses torture tactics to extract information from men with ties to Al Qaeda, Jessica (Jennifer Ehle), who is Maya’s only friend through this ordeal, and the Seal 6 team who are eventually the ones who kill Bin Laden in 2011. Maya is seen to constantly press her Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), George (Mark Strong), and eventually, the CIA Director (James Gandolfini) to get things done and as a result, she is the one who brings Bin Laden home in a body bag.

Zero Dark Thirty is a tight thriller. I thought it would be a little bit more action packed but it was a slow burn that paid off in the end. The political undertones are obvious throughout but, surprisingly, despite the bit included about Obama cracking down on the torture of Al Qaeda members, the film never takes a side between Obama and Bush which is strange to see in a film as political as this one. Despite the fact that this was a movie that did a lot of talking, I thought the script was brilliant if a little dull. However, it could’ve been just because this isn’t the type of film I usually watch.

The dialogue, though, was fantastic. If anyone is considering a job in showbiz writing scripts, I send this film along to you. Please watch it. While the characters aren’t developed really well, there is a lot to learn from how Mark Boal crafted every scene and how the characters react to each other. He also handles time rather well. Intertitles are the audience’s best friend. Pay attention to them and everything being said and you’ll get a lot more out of it. I struggled with that a lot because of the slow pace but it does put everything in perspective.

The entire cast of this film was amazing. Chastain and Chandler butted heads enough that I thought Maya was going to eat Joseph and then, later, George. Never once did Chastain cow under the pressure or lose Maya’s characteristics. She is a tough as nails woman and, as a result, Chastain blows all the men in this movie completely out of the water. Save for perhaps Chris Pratt. Pratt comes in late as DEVGRU/Seal 6 team second in command Justin and steals the show, as he always does. What little time he spends with Chastain is electric. I definitely feel that Pratt and Chastain need to be in another film together.

In all, Zero Dark Thirty isn’t a film for everyone. It’s heavy and tense but if you’re watching the film to appreciate filmmaking, go for it. Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow have crafted a wonderful film to learn a number of things about from both a political and technical standpoint.

Shelby Arnold
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