The Monocle – “Zero Dark Thirty”

Directed by: Katheryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal
Released: December 19th, 2012
Theatre watched at: AMC Century City, Los Angeles

Ladies and gentlemen, it has been another hell of a year at the movies. Statistically speaking most of the movies released this year either sucked or were panned like a fried egg, but a handful still managed to break records, win awards, surprise the world, and be just plain good enough to earn a gander. However, only one film this year has managed to truly “wow” me on all accounts of its cinematic artistry as well as its social and political relevance, and that film is Zero Dark Thirty. Katheryn Bigelow, who became a force to be reckoned with for her 2008 Best Picture and Best Director winner The Hurt Locker, has again managed to prove her prowess as a filmmaker by crafting a masterful piece of narrative substance and visual power that trumps her previous work due to its unrelenting grip on your psyche- this film will make you rethink everything you thought you understood about the principles that dictate our government as well as ourselves.

Not only is Zero Dark Thirty a nearly flawless film, it’s quite possibly the best film of 2012; from the strong performances, the ferociously choreographed action, and the constantly smart and engaging story, the film had me frozen in my seat. Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have taken the decade long manhunt for Osama bin Laden, constructed from their search of real life sources and classified information, and dramatized the event with delicacy as well as respect. The depictions of the sometimes controversial methods that led to the enlightenment of bin Laden’s hideout are executed with bravery and as objective fact rather than subjective truth aimed to glorify sides. Bigelow remains a storyteller rather than an activist, she reminds us that this is not a story of heroes, villains, redemption or revenge. This is a human examination, one that asks us to be aware of our goals, the lengths we are willing to go to achieve them, and the morals behind those lengths. There is not one scene that goes by, set pieces small or large, that Bigelow fails to bring out the human side of the characters. Never once compromising emotion for tension, she builds scenes using both like Lego pieces that rely on each other to hold the story together.

The story follows CIA operative Maya, played wonderfully by Jessica Chastain, who’s first and only case for the organization is to find Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks. The film chronicles the ten years of interrogations, bombings, under-the-table deals, secret meetings, and other trials and tribulations that led to the operation, code-named Operation Neptune Spear, to raid a fortress-like house in Abbottabad, Pakistan at which U.S. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in May, 2011. Chastain, much like Bigelow, is a powerhouse of an actress in this film–easily an Oscar contender for her ability to really dig deep into her character’s motivation in times of strength as well as her fragility in times of despair. In one scene, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, played by James Gandolfini, looking at a small scale model of bin Laden’s hideout, requests to know who is responsible for finding “this place,” and Maya responds with something along the lines of, “This motherfucker…” A brilliantly delivered line. Chastain is also accompanied by an amazing supporting cast that includes: Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, and Kyle Chandler, some of which play minor but important roles.

It’s really quite amazing the amount of thrills you can provide in a near 3-hour runtime with properly placed and powerful scenes, rather than 5-10 minutes of high-octane action sequences riddled with bullets and yelling-this is Zero Dark Thirty‘s true mastery. Bigelow wallows in the details, carefully building up to visually arresting moments of both scope and realization; you would be surprised of the majesty of seeing two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters flying through the mountains of Pakistan in pitch darkness, and the visceral wave of solemness that overcomes you by seeing a pool of blood through night-vision goggles. The final act of the film involving SEAL team six raiding bin Laden’s fortress, is a cinematic gem that will be looked on in the future as the pivotal 9/11 film sequence. No words can describe the technical brilliance of that scene and the paper thin silence that befell the theatre thereafter.

Zero Dark Thirty is one of the most important films of the decade- important because of how it works on a filmmaking level, important because of how it works on a political awareness level, important because of how it works on a cinematic experience level, and important because of how it is able to successfully encompass all three of those aspects into a viable source of art. This is the only film of 2012 that I’m awarding with a perfect 5/5 Golden Bowtie score and it is well damn deserved. Go see it and have a wonderful new years! Cheers to a new batch of fantastic movies in 2013!

Bow Tie Approved