Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 2012. Screenplay by Mark Boal. Columbia Pictures Corporation, Annapurna Pictures, First Light Production. Cinematography by Greig Fraser. Produced by Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Megan Ellison. Music by Alexandre Desplat. Production Design by Jeremy Hindle. Costume Design by George L. Little. Film Editing by William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor. Academy Awards 2012. Golden Globe Awards 2012. New York Film Critics Awards 2012.
It’s not easy to have a huge breakthrough success and keep the momentum going, so when Kathryn Bigelow did the unexpected by directing the superbly tense The Hurt Locker and became the first woman to win an Academy Award as Best Director, it goes without saying that her next move would be watched, and criticized, very closely. Success didn’t get to her head, considering that her next move was to make another terrific military-minded film that is even more impressive, if completely the opposite in tone, to her previous venture. Rather than a collection of intense moments as The Hurt Locker was, Zero Dark Thirty is a procedural drama that takes its time accumulating its well thought-out moments, detailing the ten years it took to capture Osama Bin Laden following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Jessica Chastain is the member of the C.I.A. team working on the case who ends up being the central figure as the years pass; her growing suspicion that bin Laden is holed up in a Pakistani safe house makes her the ire of her superiors but her determination never wanes. After watching countless failed attempts to extract reliable information, through torture, interrogation and surveillance, the film concludes with the actual raid by Navy SEALs in a breathlessly captivating sequence whose How Did They Do That perfection reaches near Battle Of Algiers levels. What makes Bigelow’s scintillating direction so good is how efficient she is: ten years go by in three hours but you feel the weight of time thanks to an intelligent selection of what moments are worth dramatizing. The players involved suffer setbacks (some very tragic) and make terrible mistakes, but Bigelow is neither judgmental of the less appealing aspects of the case (which is why her frank portrayal of torture has drawn undue criticism) nor she does she overplay the achievement (the actual encounter with Bin Laden is a masterful scene of underplayed banality). Much of the advances made by this team are actually accomplished through sheer luck, which Bigelow never tries to cover up with any kind of comforting moralizing, and it only makes the film that much richer and more intelligent.