Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty, a review

It took twelve years for Maya to find Osama Bin Laden. Twelve years. Failure was not an option for her. She was sent to the CIA for one mission: find Bin Laden. For twelve years, there were constant dead ends, a constant sense of doom that's lead to close friends dying and billions of wasted dollars. But she found him. She finally found him, in a move that was mostly based on a strong hunch. There was no "definitive" proof that Osama Bin Laden was in Abottabad, but all the information she had gathered over the years, through everything she had learned... it only made sense that he would be there. He had to be there.

Maya is played by an incredibly intense, focused Jessica Chastain who for 160 minutes keeps the ball rolling with no sense that she should stop or quit. You can argue on some of the fine details, argue whether the film is "morally dubious" with the way it portrays, and never shies from, torture. Her involvement in this case took twelve years and when it was finally over, well, what was there? Was it even satisfying? All she could do is sit back and think. Think about what the last twelve years meant for her, stuck thinking about the same thing everyday. Forced to go to work and keep looking for more evidence, more clues. Her whole life revolved around finding Osama Bin Laden, long after many others had decided to quit and forget about it altogether.

The reason why Zero Dark Thirty surpasses other great historical films of this year like Argo and Lincoln is based on Maya's strong, subtly emotional presence. Ben Affleck was solid in Argo, his character got the job done. Lincoln obviously featured a powerhouse performance from Daniel Day-Lewis and Lincoln was relentless in his own conquests. But what Lincoln was trying to do was for the better good. He was the President, a down-to-earth president, but his legacy puts him up on such a pedestal that it's nearly impossible to relate to him. Maya wasn't necessarily hunting for Osama Bin Laden for the better good. She obviously had the feeling that he was still involved in the numerous terrorist attacks that had been occurring, and are portrayed, throughout the film over the course of 10+ years. But her hunt for Osama Bin Laden ultimately became an obsession, an obsession to get the job done. It was something she was sent here to do and she's going to do it no matter how long it takes.

Lincoln never got to live to see the repercussions of his actions. Maya has to live after the hunt is over. Bin Laden is dead, but her life goes on, and for what? Anything she does in the CIA hereafter will not hold the same weight. She practically went from high school to her 30s, obsessed with this case, and now she has to be a normally functioning person? Don't get me wrong, it's not that I feel bad for a person like Maya. Obviously, there have been so many that have suffered, bled, died through all of this. Many people wound up in worse situations than Maya, I don't feel bad for her, but I can absolutely relate to her. So can you.

That's what makes this such a great film. It's relentless for 160 minutes and throws a lot of information at you, but Maya holds it all together. She adds such a strong human element to the film that will make Zero Dark Thirty so rewatchable. You may argue that an event as important as the capturing of Osama Bin Laden shouldn't be about one person's story. But it's not. Her obsession reflects on all of us. I think, in a way, those of us who were affected directly or indirectly by 9/11 felt the same when Osama Bin Laden was finally captured. There may have been an initial feeling of elation, after all, it had to be done. Ultimately though, there had been so much carnage in the 10 years it took to find him that really, there isn't much joy to be found in his capture. Life goes on. Terrorism goes on. War and its destruction goes on. We're still fighting. We're still afraid of potential terrorist threats. Not finding Osama Bin Laden may have made us felt empty, like there had been no closure. But finding Osama Bin Laden wasn't exactly satisfactory in the closure that it brought. It just reminded us of the pain, of the soldiers and civilians that had died.

Zero Dark Thirty manages to be a film that is intense, that thrills, yet it still finds time to make us reflect. I think that's why it's actually a plus that the film came out so soon after the event transpired. It's only been a year and a half since he's been killed. We all are able to reflect on what it means to all of us, whether or not its meaning has any real significance at all. It's a film for the right now and for the ages. Kathryn Bigelow started her comeback with The Hurt Locker and this just blows Hurt Locker out the window. It might just be, dare I say, her masterpiece.

Grade: A+


Anonymous said...

Nice review Ken. - Jim

Ken G said...

Thanks. I'm kinda proud of this one.