Chastain leads this Manhunt to Good Things, but lacks on others

Zero Dark Thirty

Robbie K back again with another review this weekend on the latest blockbuster film.  This time I’m covering Kathryn Bigelow’s latest project entitled Zero Dark Thirty (ZDT), the movie about the manhunt considered to be the greatest of all time.  While Bigelow’s last historical drama won the best movie category four years ago, I still wasn’t too thrilled to see this movie, since that year was more politics than anything else.  Jessica Chastain was the motivation to give the film a try though, as I have always been a fan of her work.  So what was my verdict on ZDT?  Read on to find out.

Immediately I chuckled as the message saying the movie was based on firsthand accounts appeared on the screen.  From those words I wondered just how much of this movie was going to be accurate and how much was going to be movie magic and dramatization.  Yet since I’m fairly ignorant to the news I can only speculate on such matters and how reliable these firsthand account memories were.  Putting that aside though let me continue on with the movie review.  After the message disappears, the horror of 9/11 is revisited as actual calls fill the speakers of the victims of the terrible event in an attempt to get the crowd fired up from the get go.  The first scene continues to expand on that emotion, showing the American CIA torturing a captured terrorist, taking no means to censor the inhumane treatment of a fellow human being.  While it’s not as bloody as some of the horror/slasher genres, the realism behind these scenes is enough to make any sane person cringe, or some other affect.  Don’t let this sway your mind into thinking this movie is just one big torture fest, it’s just one thing to warn you about.

ZDT is a really well done movie that has many components that make it worthy of being considered best picture of the year.  Bigelow and company planned the movie out well, bringing the evolution of the plan to hunt down Bin Laden to life.  What starts out as simple interrogation in the beginning turns into something much more complicated as the CIA agents continue to uncover the depth of the rabbit hole.  The suspense of the CIA trying to uncover clues, discover new leads, and obtain the truth is done in just the right amounts to keep one enthralled in the adventure.  Of course the adventure requires one to listen to dialog filled with military jargon, requiring one to pay attention to understand the turn events.   Should you become lost in a particular part of the movie though, don’t worry as the film is divided into chapters that are titled to sum up the theme of that chapter.  The jargon though is a necessity to fit in with the well-acted scenes of military planning and politics that agreed with my vision of how these military meetings go. 

By now you might be wondering if this movie is all about meetings and governmental big wigs arguing with each other.  While this does happen a lot in the movie, there are some other qualities to this movie that kept my attention.  As I mentioned earlier, the CIA’s journey to find Bin Laden constantly changes as more events unfold.  These events are a combination of character dilemmas, political intervention, and reenactments of some of terrorist attacks that occurred over the last decade.  While it is painful to relive these moments, ZDT has managed to recreate these events with extraordinary detail, expanding on the limited footage the news stations revealed.  Unfortunately the Arabic soldiers I felt were depicted to look like savage monsters out to destroy everything in sight, while the Americans were depicted as the heroes who could do no wrong.  Was I surprised by this depiction?  Not really, but I do worry about the consequences of such a portrayal.  Moving on though, the journey to bring Osama to justice doesn’t just change on strategy, but also the political involvement of the big wigs in Washington D.C.  At first thought to be an irreplaceable ally, the government quickly turns into a hindrance refusing to allocate the funds properly and give orders to back up the CIA’s investigations.  Fans will enjoy the pot shots the film takes at Congress and the president to state the weaknesses we already knew about.  Eventually the movie reaches a peak of suspense and excitement as the mission to bring him in begins, moving out of the meetings and video tapes, and moving into the hotspot battle zone.  Like the rest of the movie this battle isn’t the flashy explosion filled battle, but a strategic insertion with minimum firefights occurring.  Disappointed with that?  Well the realistic approach does allow one to see some pretty cool technology that actually belongs in this age.

Despite all of these great qualities though, ZDT’s biggest strength for me is Jessica Chastain’s character Maya.  The red head’s character is the central core to the entire movie.  Her character drives most of the plot, being the agent hired to look past the hard evidence and understand the mindset of a terrorist.  Instead of just taking an analyst role though, Chastain’s character plays the field on many levels collecting information herself, interacting with her fellow colleagues, and even forcing the government to do something once she gets angry.  As her career upgrades though, so too does her character.  Maya doesn’t just say a one dimensional genius through the movie, but instead develops a range of emotions that change based on who she interacts with.  While at the beginning she starts out shy and afraid of the nightmare of the mission, she gradually acquires more confidence and backbone that becomes her greatest tool.  These qualities though would be nothing without Chastain’s acting.  Once again the red head impresses me with her talent, somehow playing her character as if it was her natural self.  Not once did I see her overact or play the wrong emotion on her character.  She delivered her lines extraordinarily and not once became boring to me.  However, I felt the movie relied on her a little too much though as her character was the center of the movie.  Sure other actors were here to back her up, but many roles were brief in this movie overall.

The last part of my review talks about some of the weaknesses I haven’t already mentioned.  One weakness is the pace of the movie was a little bit slow for me.  Although I was very interested in the manhunt, I didn’t need to be subjected to almost 3 hours of political bickering.  While it did add some challenge and depth, I got tired of the arguments and constant reminders of what the problem was.  Another thing that I rolled my eyes at, was the American glorification this movie had to it.  Yes it did show some weaknesses to our proud homeland, it still made us look like we were the heroes.  Why do I care about this?  I fear it could influence the folks to select this movie for best picture for the wrong reasons.

ZDT is a well done movie with lots of great strengths and realistic portrayals.  Yet how much is Hollywood magic and how much is real I still do not understand.  All I can say is that Chastain’s performance was incredible, the constantly adapting journey was full of suspense, and I like the realism involved with the film.  However, there are still plenty of things that make this movie a little lacking for the best movie of the year for my books.  Oh well we’ll see what happens on the Oscar’s soon.  Is it worth a trip to the theater?  For me it can be enjoyed in either home or theater, but I would say probably best at home.  My scores for the film are:

Action/Drama/History:  8.5

Movie Overall:  8.0



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