Zero Dark Thirty – 2012
Director Katheryn Bigelow
Starring Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Ehle, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, Harold Perrineau, Chris Pratt, Édgar Ramírez, Mark Duplass, James Gandolfini
Screenplay Mark Boal
I spent much of the Bush administration reading books about the wars in the middle east after 9/11. Most of it was read in disgust with Cheney’s and his administration. Along the way, through osmosis, I learned a thing or two about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj. This helps me understand about 5 minutes of the story. So much information is pushed in the 157 minutes of Zero Dark Thirty, that by the time we get to Maya (Chastain) starts writing the number of days since they found the house that Bin Laden was supposedly housed (and killed) in, it feels like coming out of a fog.
Screenwriter Boal and Director Bigelow go to such lengths to clarify where we are at every step of the way, the process feels like night class at a community college. It is labored at a few points, and it suffers a bit from the Brad Pitt-Moneyball syndrome, but overall, the movie is smart. The cast is as good, with some big name actors chewing scenery and other character actors taking in the view.
The film is brave at points, including depicting torture being performed on humanized detainees by likable characters. The lead is a woman, giving her a barely tolerable overachiever who is not afraid of how she looks to anyone else. It was a tough role to execute properly and Chastain gives a solid effort, only occasionally let down by the script making her a martyr genius. The last 40 minutes are thrilling and thorough, even if they miss the customary two to the head for each aggressor. They manage to keep the politics out of it, even if the viewer still has a hard time believing the overall story. The best that can be said is a “possible jackpot.”
The biggest complaint for us is the use of Jennifer Ehle’s character, Jessica. Her character has unquestionable intelligence and limited anticipation of succeeding. Still, she has pluck. This is what we expect from the heroine of Pride and Predjudice and Contagion. For some reason, her character becomes inexplicably idiotic, along with everyone else around her. This is necessary to portray for the plot, and perhaps to depict real events. The thing is, in presenting it as they do, they take away the intelligence of the good guys as well as the bad guys.
No amount of doubt in the truthfulness of the venture of the last killing of a man supposedly dead several times over can take away from the power of seeing Chastain as the film fades to black. Through this visage, one finds it easy to identify with someone who has concentrated on no one else but Bin Laden in over a decade. You believe that she believes. You know she’s been hollowed out and has nowhere else to go. In her tears, the film puts a human toll on our nation’s burden since that fateful day. There is strength and vulnerability. There is aggression temporarily suspended. What is lost, however, is a sense of purpose. There is no better actress working today. Although, before seeing this movie, I would have considered Ehle in the running.
(****1/2 out of *****)