In 2009, director Kathryn Bigelow brought us The Hurt Locker, a searing look at Operation Iraqi Freedom through the eyes of an explosives expert. Parts of the film were nearly unbearable, the sweat pouring from the main character’s forehead, his fingers working frantically against time. Her direction earned the film six Oscars, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. She even beat out her ex-husband, James Cameron, whose Avatar was considered by some as 2009’s favorite. So heading into this year’s awards season, the question is, does Zero Dark Thirty have the same power as The Hurt Locker?
If you want my simple answer, it’s no. Not quite anyway. Don’t get me wrong, this is a powerful film. I found myself bouncing my leg nervously upon the sticky floor of the dark theater several times. Writer Mark Boal returns for his second stint with Bigelow, and does a great job building the intensity for the powerful climax. For those that are unfamiliar with the premise, the film involves the ten years after the 9/11 attacks and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. It begins with calls made from people trapped in the Trade Center towers and sets out on a nearly three hour journey from that point.
The film has been met with some controversy heading into awards season, as several members of the Republican Party claim that President Obama gave the filmmakers an unusually large amount of information regarding the events portrayed in the film. Due to these claims, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee is reported to investigate the contacts between the filmmakers and administration. The movie also exhibits some uncomfortable scenes of torture, which some critics claim is a pro-stance on the issue. Whether or not these claims about the film are true, the scenes are effective and make for a very intense viewing experience.
Jessica Chastain makes a very convincing push for that Best Actress Oscar. Her character goes through a lot, working off a tip to find Bin Laden for most of the movie. After a while, you start rooting for her and find yourself frustrated by the obstacles she meets, a good number of them her male co-workers and supervisors. She doesn’t show much emotion throughout the film, and when she finally does, it’s very well deserved. Australian actor, Jason Clarke is excellent as Dan, her fellow CIA investigator that performs a large amount of the torture in the film. America’s favorite Soprano, James Gandolfini is great as well, as the CIA Director Chastain answers to.
As I mentioned before, this movie never meets up to the nail-biting intensity of its predecessor, The Hurt Locker. Where it’s missing on intensity though, it makes up for in relevance. Bigelow does a great job displaying the events of the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and whether or not she did it in the most sensitive way, doesn’t make this a bad movie. Some critics have protested against the film including social critic and feminist, Naomi Wolf, who compared Bigelow’s film to Nazi propaganda: “Like Riefenstahl, you are a great artist. But now you will be remembered forever as torture’s handmaiden.” I definitely wouldn’t go that far and personally, I find it shameful that she wasn’t nominated for Best Director. I suppose time and further reflection upon the film will show its true legacy. I will say this, though. As far as film is concerned, this is a really powerful experience and truly one of the better movies of the year.
Final Grade: 3.5/4