4. Zero Dark Thirty (R) - Runtime: 157 minutes
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
I felt The Hurt Locker was the best movie from 2009 and totally deserved its Best Picture win. I will admit my feeling of pride when I was calling that out way back before it was getting Oscar love. But Zero Dark Thirty is in a completely different realm as far as public awareness goes. Any movie Bigelow would have done would garner a lot of attention, but the fact she was making a movie about the hunt for Bin Laden and the fact she got the CIA involved to help out, well, that just sends the PR machine into the stratosphere. And for the most part, the hype behind the movie is justified - this is another thrilling and methodical war movie that everyone should at least watch once.
The story is centered around Maya, a no-bullshit CIA agent who's tasked with trying to find Bin Laden. The movie is very straightforward: it starts with the haunting echoes of 911 calls from the September 11th attacks and continues in linear and chronological fashion to the very end. In a lot of ways, this is a very similar movie to The Hurt Locker. You have a seeming unstoppable force (in this instance, Maya) who can't function outside of her job. And as much as these movies are about war and torture, both are more about a character study on the toll these two subjects take on people. There's one point where Jason Clarke's character decides to get out of Afghanistan and take a desk job. He just can't take anymore of the torture and surreal world these people live in. But Maya can't. She's completely confident and headstrong to the point where she finds it hard to maintain just decent relationships with co-workers.
And Chastain is absolutely amazing in this capacity - she has a couple scenes in the movie where I was blown away. There's a scene where she confronts her boss about the bullshit red tape she's trying to clear so she can follow her lead and she just unleashes all of her fury at him. If I was within earshot of this conversation in the movie, I might have peed my pants. On top of her great performance, Jason Clarke is just as good and he's not getting enough credit for his role - he's a different character but he's the man who has to torture one of the detainees and it's disgusting and riveting all at the same time.
Speaking of disgusting, much has been made about the torture in this movie and if it is saying torture was critical or not. I don't believe the movie takes an actual stance on this subject - it would have been dishonest if they didn't include these scenes of torture - but to say they played a huge role in the capture of Bin Laden - well, that's up for debate. Personally, I just think the writer, Mark Boal and Bigelow just wanted to tell a compelling story and they couldn't possibly do that without including American torture. It's ugly and brutal and the movie depicts it that way so I don't believe their advocating this practice. But like I said earlier, you can have a really good debate on whether or not the torturing in the movie led to solid information regarding Bin Laden's hideout. There's a fascinating thread on Andrew Sullivan's blog about this whole topic - a must read.
If you haven't decided if you want to see this movie, you should. It's not only a fascinating and thrilling story about the hunt for America's number one enemy, it's also a very deep and smart movie that will have you discussing with others about American ideals, torture and our foreign policy. It's certainly a movie that you'll want to at least watch once, if not twice!
Rating: See It!