Kathryn Bigelow has become quite the crowd pleaser in recent years and it’s good to see her becoming so successful after years of being relatively unknown to most people apart from those (like me) who loved Point Break and Near Dark. However, to those who have known of her, and admired her work, for many years there is a certain worry that she has now simply found a way to meld her action movie nous with a certain kind of jingoism, a type of flag-waving that covers the flag in enough blood and dirt to make the tone of the film not as obvious as it could be. Perhaps I’m alone in thinking that.
Zero Dark Thirty, in case you have somehow missed all of the talk about it, is a movie all about the search for, and eventual shooting of, Osama Bin Laden. Viewers are taken alongside Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young woman who starts off seeming quite unsure of herself and of just what is being done to get results, but who turns into a cool, calculating, tough S.O.B at about the 20-25 minute mark and keeps her mind on one thing and one thing only: the final objective, getting Bin Laden.
I enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty and a lot of it seemed to have an air of authenticity about it (though I couldn’t say what was fact and what was fiction, kudos to writer Mark Boal for packaging it all so well), but it’s not the most satisfying movie experience I’ve had this year for a couple of reasons.
First of all, Bigelow seems to have forgotten (or now works with writers who have forgotten) how to develop characters. If you thought I was joking about Maya simply transforming at a point early in the movie then think again. Of course, time compression is a factor here – the movie spans a number of years – but that’s no excuse for such a lack of care. At least one character gets to show some change (Dan, played by Jason Clarke) so it’s not impossible to take a little bit more time to develop the leading lady.
Secondly, I found the last half hour to be pretty boring. The climax of a movie should never be something to get through after you feel that the story has already ended, but that’s the case here. Even if you keep just one eye half-open to notice world events then you’ll know how things panned out and Bigelow shows that in great detail. It’s technically sound, it just didn’t do anything for me (though I’m sure that millions of Call Of Duty fans will love it).
Chastain is very good in the main role, believably strong-willed and focused, while Jason Clarke does well as the man who throws her in at the deep end when she arrives in the field. Kyle Chandler is also very good, as is the ever-dependable Mark Strong, and James Gandolfini is okay in a small role. The rest of the cast includes Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Reda Kateb, Joel Edgerton and Edgar Ramirez and all of them do a pretty good job, I suppose, but it’s probably quite telling that by the time I left the cinema I couldn’t remember any character names, even the lead. They are amalgamations of people who got together to get this job done – intel, soldiers, political advisors, interrogators – and the movie has to provide viewers with a cast of characters even if it doesn’t have to provide them as fleshed-out individuals.
Zero Dark Thirty is worth seeing and I’m happy to see Bigelow getting more praise and publicity. The controversy surrounding it is, as usual, a storm in a teacup created by people with nothing better to do than moan about aspects of “a piece of art” (let’s face it, this may be based on fact, but it’s also a fictionalised account of events). It’s not, in my opinion, an Oscar-worthy movie, apart from the technical aspects, but it’s another solid war picture from my favourite female director.
DIRECTOR: KATHRYN BIGELOW
WRITER: MARK BOAL
STARS: JESSICA CHASTAIN, JASON CLARKE, KYLE CHANDLER, JENNIFER EHLE, HAROLD PERRINEAU, REDA KATEB, MARK STRONG, JAMES GANDOLFINI, JOEL EDGERTON, EDGAR RAMIREZ
RUNTIME: 157 MINS APPROX