Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Zero Dark Thirty is a matter-of-factly and fairly unpolitical account of the capture and assassination of Osama Bin Laden, and the long and largely futile CIA investigation leading up to it. As directed by Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow, who won her Oscar three years ago for another Middle East based war/conflict film, The Hurt Locker, the film's objective is to provide an in-depth portrayal of War on Terror investigation tactics and methods, and to show how people have suffered on both sides of the axis – without adjudgement. It succeeds to a large degree. Zero Dark Thirty is far more detailed and comes off as better researched than The Hurt Locker, and even though all the principal characters are still inveterate patriots operating on an "eye-for-an-eye" level, the protagonist is far more interesting here than Jeremy Renner's character in The Hurt Locker. One of the reasons for this is that Jessica Chastain is such a talented actress, another that her character Maya is a woman in a man's world. And a bad-ass woman of true Cameron/Bigelow/Hamilton quality at that. Good thing she's got Chastain's sensibility to balance it out.
The denouement is make-or-break for a historical account such as this, and luckily it is very tactfully executed, standing firmly as the film's thematical and narrative climax, elevating an otherwise somewhat unfulfilled experience. Because although Zero Dark Thirty is at times an effective, action-driven thriller, as a drama it is too often unfocused and emotionally drained. It may not simplify the political aspects or the course of events depicted, but it simplifies human beings and takes a clinical approach which reduces the overall impact of the film. In this respect, the film bears close resemblance with The Hurt Locker. And while I'm not going to pan Kathryn Bigelow's talents as a filmmaker completely, or make an observation such as that she's proof that when a woman is able to elbow her way to the top of the traditionalistic Hollywood ladder, this will probably be a woman whose main interests/characteristics are not the typically female, I will say that with her past two films, Bigelow has probably demonstrated just how much she can – and cannot – do as a director. And although both these films have been widely acclaimed, for me they're a few steps away from great filmmaking.