Review: ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Review: ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)

RATING: 4.5/5

Back in 2009, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal made a low-budget Iraqi War thriller about military bomb squad called THE HURT LOCKER -- a little movie that nobody would have thought that it subsequently gained a lot of critics' attention and eventually surprised its way to the Oscar to win the Best Picture and Best Director awards. No doubt the movie was technically well-made, with a breakout performance by then-unknown Jeremy Renner. But personally, I thought the overall movie was overrated and didn't exactly deserved all the big awards recognition. Three years later, Bigelow and Boal returns for another military-themed drama, and this time they worked with a bigger canvas called ZERO DARK THIRTY -- an intense procedural drama about the decade-long manhunt of Osama bin Laden, the notorious al-Qaeda leader responsible for the 9/11 attack. This is a meticulously-detailed motion picture unlike anything Bigelow has done before -- meaning her signature trademark of slow-motion montage is nowhere to be seen. It's a radical departure from her usual filmmaking style, which might alienated her die-hard fans but rest assured that ZERO DARK THIRTY is a mesmerizing and near-perfect cinematic experience ever made for a movie that is heavy on dialogue and light on action.

Before a single image is shown, the movie opens with a brief, yet chilling prologue where actual voice recordings are heard from 9/11 victims seeking help while stranded in the World Trade Center. Then the movie jumps two years later at an undisclosed Black Site and we are introduced to a young CIA analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain) who is experiencing her first military interrogation between no-nonsense partner Dan (Jason Clarke) and an al-Qaeda member (Reda Kateb). Throughout the interrogation process, Dan threatened, humiliated and waterboarded the al-Qaeda member in hope to obtain vital information. It took Dan and his fellow officers several times to torture him in various ways possible until he finally gives in and mention out a name -- Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. As it turns out, the name of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti is a so-called courier working for Osama bin Laden. Using him as the next jumping point to further out for the investigation, Maya and her team goes all out to locate his whereabouts on a decade-long wild goose chase filled with false leads, near-death experience, dangerous setbacks and eventually -- an unexpected breakthrough where bin Laden's secret compound is found and then raided on May 2, 2011.

At the time of this writing, ZERO DARK THIRTY had recently won Jessica Chastain the Best Actress Golden Globe award and secured 5 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Screenplay (until now, I still couldn't get over the fact that Bigelow herself got snubbed for Best Director nomination). The movie is also not without its fair share of controversy -- acting CIA director Michael Morell has issued a statement that the movie "is a dramatization and is not historically accurate" and clarified that the torture method used in the movie is said to be false.

Whether the movie is historically accurate or not, one couldn't deny the fact that ZERO DARK THIRTY remains a compelling piece of work. Bigelow's direction is particularly masterful, while Boal's well-calculated screenplay is top-notch that the movie's 157-minute running time feels like a breeze. That kind of achievements are worth noting for, considering Bigelow is mostly known for her visual rather than narrative style. And yet, she manages to defy all odds to accomplish something different so well from her usual norm.

The acting ensemble are first-rate, but it was Jessica Chastain who truly steals the show. As the relentless CIA analyst Maya who refuses to quit in order to track down bin Laden's hideout, she certainly gives a ferociously enthusiastic performance here. This is her finest role so far. Supporting roles, including Jason Clarke and especially Jennifer Ehle who plays Maya's colleague, Jessica -- are all equally captivating as well.

No doubt Bigelow and her team has succeeded on keeping the viewers glued to their seats with one engaging scenario after another, while clever enough not to leave any excess baggage for subplots or unnecessary characters acted as fillers.

And then comes the crucial third-act in the final raid scene. Technically speaking, the re-construction of the raid on bin Laden's compound is meticulously researched while Bigelow's choice of handheld camera, naturalistic lighting and impeccable sound design truly evokes "you-are-there"-kind of cinematic realism. However, the supposedly exciting raid scene turns out to be strangely anticlimactic. Perhaps it's that slight misguided direction by Bigelow who made the scene rather too clinical for its own good.

The final scene is what preventing the movie from achieving a five-star rating. Minor flaw aside, ZERO DARK THIRTY is one of the best movies ever made in 2012.

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