Kathryn Bigelow, to my own surprise, has done it again. When I first heard that Bigelow was dipping from the war well again, I was not excited. Though The Hurt Locker was as tense and tight a film as I have ever seen, the promise of another the-same-but-different war story sounded a bit lackluster. Suffice to say that I was not counting down the days til it opened like I was for Prometheus or Django Unchained. I should have been….
Bigelow’s stunning re-imagination of what is being tagged as “the greatest manhunt in history” is a fully impressive, detail driven film told through the lens of a tightly wound, go-for-broke Jessica Chastain, who was perfection personified. I should have known Zero Dark Thirty would be worth waiting for since, no lie, everything Chastain touches is film gold.
Ever since the Julliard trained actress burst into Hollywood with a series of great performances in The Help, Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and Lawless, her films have become must see, much like those of Leonard DiCaprio, Daniel Day Lewis or the late Heath Ledger. Simply put, Chastian = two thumbs up and I won’t make the mistake of forgetting it ever again, nor should you.
Intelligent director that she is, Bigelow doesn’t fall into the trap of adding an unnecessary love story or humor that doesn’t belong. The meticulous detail to historical accuracy, the slow-moving bureaucracy and the harsh realities of the life shattering turmoil necessary to catch the world’s most notorious terrorist are everything Argo is not. Instead of Argo‘s heavy-handed, smug take on actual events, Zero Dark Thirty has a subtle touch that delivers in each and every scene.
My one problem with the movie is, ironically, that it doesn’t have that killer, defining curl up in your seat, squeeze the armrest with white-knuckled intensity scene that Argo does. Zero Dark Thirty does have many ebbs and flows where audiences’ hearts will beat faster, but not to the level of what Ben Affleck achieves during his tense as hell airport interrogation scene.
Ultimately, Bigelow succeeds because her film concerns itself with bringing truth to each scene. As members of the audience, we ride the emotional roller coaster that Chastain drags us on. We feel her pain, we celebrate her victories and we feel EVERYTHING she does. Yeah, we want Bin Laden to die, but we want it for her. She deserves this end and we, with her, want it, get it and try to move on. The great heights Bigelow’s film reaches has everything to do with her protagonist, her heroine, her star! What a ride.