Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Film Review: Zero Dark Thirty

One of the biggest shocks when the Academy Award nominations were announced was the notable absence of Kathryn Bigelow. The former Oscar winner (for The Hurt Locker) was thought to be one of the favourites to win for her most recent effort, Zero Dark Thirty. In fact, the film’s star, Jessica Chastain, has been nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of Maya and the film itself has been nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. So why was Bigelow herself left off?

Arguably, it is because the film is so controversial and so very current. The film begins with a black screen and a haunting audio of just some of the calls made to emergency services on 9/11. This is quickly followed with scenes of torture as the CIA operatives try to get answers from their prisoners. There are also lots of reenactments, mixed in with real footage of just some of the terror attacks across the world in the years that followed that horrifying day we all remember so vividly. Personally, I found the recordings at the beginning and the London bombing far more upsetting than the torture scenes (though they hardly made for easy viewing) because it is all still so close to home for me and no doubt so many others.

What sceptics may not realise, however, is just how brave and un-biased Bigelow’s latest film is. It all feels very real, making for an unsettling few hours at the cinema. But what it may lack in ‘comfort’ it more than makes up for in simply stunning filmmaking. Bigelow is no idiot. She has clearly done her research here and offers as much truth as she can. However, at no point does she condone the use of torture or force an agenda down her viewers' throats. She explores the reasoning behind the use of torture and the lengths so many were desperate to go to to bring down Al-Qaeda.

With the strong, capable and complex Maya (Chastain) becoming the team’s leader, Zero Dark Thirty becomes more about the people involved behind the scenes than the war itself. With a strong female lead on both sides of the camera, this is no girl-power driven film. It is a film about strong characters, giving their all for the safety of their country.

Maya is to this decade what Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling was to the 1990s. She is driven, confident, extremely intelligent and not afraid to upset her bosses by telling them off. But underneath it all, she is human and totally relatable. She is an incredible central character and the driving force behind this multi-faceted character-driven story. Though many of the faces of the supporting cast are well-known, there is rarely a moment where you find yourself thinking of them as Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler or Chris Pratt. They all embody their characters to such an extent that who they are off camera has no relevance. Even a shockingly small part for Mark Strong soon became just one cog in this flawless machine. The only break from this pattern was when - quite bizarrely - the brilliantly fun Doctor Who star John Barrowman appeared as a straight-laced character who is on screen for mere minutes.

Though Zero Dark Thirty is clearly not the sort of film that will appeal to everyone, it is undoubtedly one of the most impressive pieces of cinema from recent years - bold, unyielding and immensely powerful with an end sequence so tense I'm not sure I remembered to breathe throughout.

Zero Dark Thirty is a very long film - at almost three hours in length - but worth every second of screen time it demands. It is the type of film that lingers. It gets under your skin and stays there for days, even weeks, afterwards.

4.5/5 FOBLES

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