Sunday, January 13, 2013
Zero Dark Thirty
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty is the story about a CIA officer who goes on a long search for Osama Bin Laden as it takes many years until he is finally captured. The film is an exploration into one of the great manhunts in American history and what it took to finally bring down the man who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. Starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Edgar Ramirez, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, and James Gandolfini. Zero Dark Thirty is a haunting yet gripping film from Kathryn Bigelow.
The film is essentially the story about one of the greatest manhunts in American history concerning Osama Bin Laden as it the story spans eight years into the search for the man who orchestrated the attacks on 9/11. Leading the pack is a CIA officer named Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she arrives to Pakistan in 2003 where she witness interrogation tortures and all sorts of things while being part of a team trying to find out where Bin Laden is. Through some trials and tribulations where she sees people come and go. Maya becomes intent on finding Bin Laden after a prisoner she interrogates reveals information about a courier. It is through this courier known as Abu Ahmed where Maya believes that he is the link to finding Bin Laden where it would take some guess work and determination to finally find and kill Bin Laden.
Mark Boal’s screenplay doesn’t play to a lot of conventions in terms of what is expected in a thriller with some action as a lot of the story takes place inside embassies, interrogation rooms, and military bases. While the story does take place largely from 2003 to the night Bin Laden was finally killed in May of 2011, the narrative does jump from one year to another to establish the long work it took for Maya and many to find Bin Laden. Even as the narrative plays to key moments in history such as the London bombing in 2005, the Islamabad Marriot Hotel bombing in 2008 that Maya and her friend Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) survived, and the 2009 Camp Chapman attack.
These events as well as the departure of friends and colleagues would eventually drive the very timid and naïve Maya into a determined woman who is willing to do whatever it takes to find Bin Laden and have him killed. While she does become a target where she survives a shooting in Pakistan, she doesn’t give up easily as she becomes obsessed with finding the courier. While her determination does have those questioning whether they’ll find something or just feel like they’re wasting their time. After the first two acts approached the narrative slowly where it does like they’re not going anywhere due to false information and such. It’s the film’s third act that becomes the payoff as it’s momentum is heightened as it leads to the film’s climatic moment where a group of Navy SEALs raid Bin Laden’s compound.
Kathryn Bigelow’s direction is truly mesmerizing in the way she explores a world where it is about what is happening behind the scenes where a group of American officials are trying to find out where Bin Laden is. Notably as she maintains an air of intimacy in many of the scenes that take place in the board room while it’s also tense at times due to the fact that information is unveiled or something bad is happening. While part of the film does take place in embassies and buildings where Bigelow always have a camera moving around whenever characters are walking. She always stop to create some fantastic images that includes a scene where the American embassy in Pakistan is surrounded by protestors as officials watch from the inside.
With a few second unit shots around parts of the Middle East including Kuwait, many of the film’s exteriors were shot in India including its deserts in order to not gain issues from shooting on actual locations. Yet, it does manage to present a world that doesn’t seem to enjoy the idea of Americans prying into their world. There’s some intense action scenes involving a few bombings where Bigelow knows how to stage something that is intense while the torture scenes reveal how graphic things are without going over the top. One part of the film that is really interesting is the way Bigelow opens the film where it’s just a blank screen where audio recordings of the 9/11 attacks are happening to establish why people were intent on this manhunt for Bin Laden.
For the film’s climatic raid that would unveil the death of Bin Laden, the action is definitely gripping from the use of night vision footage and hand-held cameras without being overly shaky. There’s definitely an element of suspense and terror over the fact that anything could go wrong as the soldiers themselves act very cautiously. Notably as they don’t want to kill innocent people while a few outside of the compound are aware that neighbors are looking at them. It is truly a moment in film that is just entrancing due to what will happen and its result. Overall, Bigelow creates a provocative yet captivating film about the greatest manhunt in American history.
Cinematographer Greig Fraser does brilliant work with the film‘s photography from the sunny look of some of the film‘s exteriors and interior settings to the more stylish array of lights for scenes at night including a key moment at Area 51. Editors William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor do incredible work with the editing by employing lots of methodical cuts for some of the film‘s suspense along with a few montages to display moments of news and such in some of the more chilling moments. Production designer Jeremy Hindle, along with supervising art director Rod McLean and set decorators Lisa Chugg and Onkar Khot, does amazing work with the design of the embassies and its offices to the look of the military camps.
Costume designer George L. Little does nice work with the costumes as a lot of it is casual though the officials wear suits as well as veils for the women. Visual effects supervisors Chris Harvey and Mike Uguccioni do terrific work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects that includes the film‘s climatic raid involving the helicopters riding over the mountains. Sound designer Paul N.J. Ottosson does excellent work with the sound from the film‘s opening moments through the layers of mixing of phone taps and other intimate moments as well as the action scenes. The film’s music by Alexandre Desplat is superb for its low-key yet ominous orchestral score to play up the suspense and drama that occurs throughout the film while incorporating Middle Eastern music to help establish the world the characters are living in.
The casting by Mark Bennett, Richard Hicks, and Gail Stevens is fantastic for the ensemble that is created specifically for this film. In small but memorable roles, there’s Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Frank Grillo, and Taylor Kinney as the Navy SEALs who hunt down Bin Laden, Reda Kateb as a man interrogated and tortured early in the film, Fares Fares as an Arabian CIA specialist who helps track down the courier, Edgar Ramirez as a CIA specialist operator who goes on the look out for the courier in Pakistan, Harold Perrineau as a CIA official Maya works with, and James Gandolfini in a small but amazing performance as then-CIA director Leon Panetta. Kyle Chandler is excellent as Islamabad CIA chief Joseph Bradley while Mark Strong is great as CIA official George who is furious over the lack of progress.
Jennifer Ehle is amazing as Maya’s colleague Jessica who helps Maya with finding out the mysteries while being her friend as they go out together. Jason Clarke is superb as the CIA officer Dan who specializes in tortures while helping Maya out in her search as he would do unconventional things to get information. Finally, there’s Jessica Chastain in an outstanding performance as CIA officer Maya. Chastain’s performance is truly eerie to watch as a woman who starts out as this CIA officer who is new to her job as she later becomes determined and obsessed with capturing Bin Laden where she is willing to display her confidence in the belief that he is there somewhere as it’s definitely one of the year’s best performances.
Zero Dark Thirty is a magnificent yet chilling film from Kathryn Bigelow that features an incredible performance from Jessica Chastain. Armed with Mark Boal’s eerie script and a strong supporting cast that includes Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, and James Gandolfini. The film is definitely an intriguing dramatization into what it took to find Osama Bin Laden. While it’s not an easy film to watch at times due to its unconventional structure and slow build-up. It is still a film that is compelling for the way it reveals how one person was willing to find one of the most wanted men around the world. In the end, Zero Dark Thirty is a tremendous film from Kathryn Bigelow.
Kathryn Bigelow Films: The Loveless - Near Dark - Blue Steel - Point Break - Strange Days - The Weight of Water - K-19: The Widowmaker - The Hurt Locker - The Auteurs #29: Kathryn Bigelow
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