Tuesday, January 15, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: ZERO DARK THIRTY

Yesterday my son and I saw Zero Dark Thirty and we both enjoyed it quite a lot. It's not as good as director Kathryn Bigelow's previous film, The Hurt Locker, which might be the best war movie I've ever seen. Still, "not as good as The Hurt Locker" is the closest I can come to finding a complaint with this film. Zero Dark Thirty is well worth your time to see in the theater. But it's hard not to compare it to that previous movie, and
I won't try to resist the urge.

I remember when Zero Dark Thirty first went into production, some on the right were concerned that it would be hastily produced, released in October 2012, and amount to a campaign film for the Obama administration. But if the final cut of this film had been released last October, it would have done little to effect the Presidential race one way or another. Political matters are addressed in the film appropriately, simply as a reality that does effect the decisions of those in power in DC. But, like The Hurt Locker, this film manages to avoid political statements on the whole and instead tries to say something honest about modern war, and about the things that drive, obsess, and ultimately consume those who wage it. The Hurt Locker puts viewers in the streets with troops, and Zero Dark Thirty puts us in the lives of those who put those troops in those streets. In both films the focus is on people who don't seem to understand their own frantic drive.

The movie is tense and suspenseful, which is saying something given that from the start we know how it's going to end. Jessica Chastain in the lead makes her CIA operative character compelling and sympathetic, although not with the kind of urgency that Jeremy Renner brought to his performance in the lead role of The Hurt Locker. The supporting actors are all either very strong or perfectly acceptable, and Bigelow's camera sustains that same documentary-like immediacy that made The Hurt Locker such a tight, strong film. It would be easy to look for metaphoric meaning in the movie's concluding scene, but there's no need. Like everything that came before it, the final scene of Zero Dark Thirty is blunt and unflinching. Both films conclude directly, and seem to say something honest about the world we've lived in since September of 2001. The war on terror has been politicized since day one, and nearly every public statement made about it has been disingenuous. It's hard to believe that one objective, humane, apolitical film about the war has been made for a major studio. Kathryn Bigelow has now made two such films.