February 23rd: Zero Dark Thirty (Oscar Week Day 7)


Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actress (Jessica Chastain), Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Editing, Best Film Editing

It is a wonder that this movie was made so quickly. This movie attempts to chronicle the search for the then-leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, after the events of September 11th, 2001. It takes place during the long stretch of time from then to May 2nd, 2011, in which bin Laden is killed in a raid conducted by Navy SEALs. Between this time, the narrative focuses on Maya, presumably a composite character, a CIA officer played by Jessica Chastain. Maya essentially devotes her entire career on the trail for bin Laden. She and her colleagues find themselves in the midst of some major terrorist incidents while on this trail, which led to some shocking and tense sequences. In building a narrative of the past decade or so, this film may go on to define this era, as it not only depicts important events, but touches upon many of the political issues that arose over this search for the “world’s most dangerous man.” One interesting change was the change from the Bush Administration to the Obama Administration; the earlier parts of the film had the use of enhanced interrogation techniques to gain information; after Obama takes office, their methods obviously have to change. However, these time jumps are sudden, and we are left wondering what occurred during the time in between. The concept of the Maya character is interesting; as mentioned, her entire career is focused on this one manhunt. She comes across as a very strong and determined character, who grows more hardened as the years pass by. But she makes some bizarre choices, such as her use of a profane word during an essential meeting with the CIA Director, for example. I personally did not enjoy Chastain’s performance. While not bad, I found her moments of intensity and anger to be unconvincing. It is clear when the movie is a political thriller/action film, and when it is a character study. The thriller/action scenes are far more compelling. This movie never glosses these real life events. This movie has a visceral feel, and there are moments that truly shocked me. Sometimes shock may be generated from an unexpected explosion; sometimes you may just feel tension from encounters and the potential of danger. None of these sequences fail to be gripping. By far the most compelling sequence is the raid near the end of the movie. Seeing this raid with no music and from various perspectives is a truly intense experience. The sound of each individual bullet shot should have some sort of jump effect, and the moment of the actual killing, without telling too much about how it is presented, is very appropriate. Even the sequence afterwards which depicts the cleanup is intense. While I never got into the characters, I must admit that the ending moment was very powerful. Kathryn Bigelow, along with her editors and sound designers, have crafted a very realistic looking and sounding film that is very timely, though a bit lengthy.

Shocking, gritty,  and real, this movie has some of the most intense sequences put on film. However, the movie skips around time messily, is very long, and its characters might not be as compelling as one might hope for.


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