When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it. Additional note: I am working my way through the movies that are relevant to next month’s Academy Awards (nominated in one of the six major categories). Stay tuned for THE IMPOSSIBLE, AMOUR, LIFE OF PI and THE SESSIONS.
5 Things You Need to Know About…
ZERO DARK THIRTY
- Zero Dark Thirty is one of the two best movies of 2012 (along with Lincoln) and is deserving of a Best Picture Academy Award. The recent award season developments (no Best Director nomination for Kathryn Bigelow, a tough go at the Golden Globes besides Jessica Chastain’s Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama win, some worrisome bad press and subsequent protests about its glorification of torture) have pulled it far out of co-frontrunner status to where it now seems highly unlikely for it win anything but Jessica Chastain’s first Oscar. This is an unfortunate byproduct (although the negative press is helping it kill at the wide-release box office) of telling a story that includes some brutally honest depictions of deplorable chapters in our nation’s history (War on Terror Bush Administration torture tactics) that are still freshly on our watch (Spielberg’s equally successful Lincoln also shows our dirty hands on the slavery question, but the 148 years since provide a bit of a culpability cushion). Zero Dark Thirty is not a documentary and Mark Boal’s taut, tight, and tension-filled script is a work of (albeit well-informed and well-researched) fiction based on true events, yet because of the quality, tone, and the believability of Ms. Chastain, we regard most of the two hours forty minute run time (the in movie length in 2012) as fact. Whether or not more fiction than fact (when the CIA comes out against it, shouldn’t they be mistrusted?), one thing is clear: Zero Dark Thirty is a phenomenal movie.
Full Disclosure: I never finished watching the Hurt Locker (After ninety minutes or so, I got the picture about how awful and tension-ridden war is. At a certain point, it was all a little too much). Do I think it was a great movie? Absolutely and admittedly very well-made (although The Social Network should have won Best Picture), but I openly and unabashedly swim more comfortably in the Spielbergian sea of optimistic resolution or like to see through the Christopher Nolan narrative and psychologically challenging cinematic scope. Ultimately, Kathryn Bigelow may not be my directorial jam, but let it be known that she did an incredible job directing Zero Dark Thirty and I am not sure anyone working in cinema today could have told this story of the obsessive hunt for Osama Bin Laden as brilliantly. Her delicate, deliberate delivery of tension, moment by moment layering of plot and information, subtle characterization and understanding of when to put down the metaphoric scene stealing wrecking ball, and eloquent execution of the OBL execution are the work of a master of film.
When I wrote about Argo many months ago, I contended that there were “a staggering number of great film and television actors in small supporting roles in this movie that amount to consistent scene stealing and unheard of structural support.” Zero Dark Thirty also features a similar number of great actors (mostly from some of the golden age of television’s greatest shows) in supporting roles, but unfortunately, they often pull us out of the “this is actually real” construct that Ms. Bigelow has so effectively cultivated. Let me tell you, if you name a golden age of television series, Zero Dark Thirty has an actor from it. The Sopranos? There’s Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) as the the “CIA Director!” Friday Night Lights? Coach Taylor was in Argo too! (Kyle Chandler has an amazing scene, but it is hard to separate him from his “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” speech here.) Lost? Michael (Harold Perrineau) shows up as does Kate’s U.S. Marshal (Fredric Lehne) from flight 815! Mad Men? It’s Betty Draper’s new husband, Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley)! Perhaps most egregiously distracting is Chris Pratt (Andy from Park and Recreation) as a featured NAVY SEAL who so effectively embodies Andy’s lovable buffoonery on P&R that I couldn’t really buy his essential role in the mission to take out OBL. The best moments of ZDT are when I forget I am watching a movie (the chameleon Jessica Chastain is surprisingly uniquely Maya, I am not sure what this says except how easily I forgot 2011 Best Picture nominees The Help and Tree of Life) and every time a TV character shows up, I know I am watching a movie.
Although I have a few more performances to see (Naomi Watts in The Impossible and Emanuelle Riva in Amour), Jessica Chastain is my pick to win Best Actress in a Leading Role at next month’s Oscar ceremony. Her performance, highlighted by some of the best nuanced nonverbal body language of recent cinema memory and a quiet, focused conviction that is at the center of her character’s heroism, feels seamless and almost without effort. Ms. Chastain’s inner strength drives this ship (and her dogged pursuit of OBL’s location) with a graceful tenacity.
5. Zero Dark Thirty is a motion picture whose decision to show the historical truths of the United States administration of torture may ultimately and ironically impact its own historical significance. By courageously and honestly depicting this epic American tale of (ostensibly) one woman’s obsessive perseverance to avenge our nation’s most tragic day, Zero Dark Thirty must expose some of the skeletons in our national closet. This controversial reveal and its ensuing unnecessary backlash may make a movie out of a motion picture that was destined to compete against Lincoln for the annual most valuable cinema player prize in 2012.
David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company. He writes weekly TV columns on Afterbuzztv.com (next up, Fox’s “The Following”) and his weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Power Rankings can be read on Derek Kosinski’s ultimatechallengeradio.com.