‘Dark’ Film, Dawn of a Generation

Every year in Hollywood, there is a film that defines a generation. In 2008, “The Hurt Locker” illustrated the intensity and paranoia of scouting for WMDs during the Iraq war. In 2010, “The Social Network” dramatized a new generation of youth that became consumed, both positively and negatively, by the rapid rise in online social networking. In 2012, we have “Zero Dark Thirty,” a film that recounts a 10-year period of time where America was on edge with various nations in the Middle East, and the determined confidence of a young female CIA agent that led to the conclusion of one of the greatest manhunts in world history.

After opening to a blank screen with numerous audio recordings from the September 11 attacks, the movie plunges into the investigation the CIA launched to track down the location of Osama bin Laden. The mission is mostly seen through the point of view of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young, hotshot agent with an abundant amount of confidence and determination to fulfill the duty of her job. Along with the widespread help of numerous colleagues over the 10-year span, it eventually climaxes in the infamous SEAL Team Six raid of the Pakistani compound that bin Laden was hiding in.

Though we may know how this famous manhunt ended, it’s the events leading up to it that the vast majority of us don’t. That is just one aspect of many pieces of beauty that put together this perfect puzzle of a docudrama. “Zero Dark Thirty” is not only the best movie of 2012, but the most important one, too.

In her portrayal of Maya, Jessica Chastain delivers her career-best performance. 2011 saw her taking flight as one of the biggest Hollywood breakthrough actresses in some time and this film only propels her image to further heights. Her body language is so breathtaking, as she can communicate her character’s nearly constant stressed-out mood in the most powerful way. The fact that an actress like Chastain can pull off a subdued yet so emotionally effective performance is a feat that is worthy of the Oscar for Best Actress.

Backing up Chastain is a talented supporting cast comprised of Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton. All of these actors deliver extremely solid work in their performances, especially Clarke and Strong. Clarke adds an effective presence to the intensity of the film’s interrogation scenes, while Strong displays his most reserved performance in five years of playing a wide assortment of villains.

As far as the film’s technicalities go, it certainly doesn’t get much better than this. The cinematography contrasts between tight, claustrophobic handheld angles in the film’s most intense sequences to the artful overhead shots of numerous Middle East locations that appear so lush in the scenery of their landscape. Furthermore, the editing is perfectly constructed, matching both the film’s action and the primary moods of stress and danger that the characters combat throughout.

With both “The Hurt Locker” and now this film, screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow have become one of the most potent filmmaking duos in Hollywood. Every minute of this film clearly shows that these two did their homework to make this film as realistic and accurate as possible. The combination of Boal’s sharp construction of the film’s events and Bigelow’s extreme attention to detail creates a lifelong match made in cinematic heaven. Not only is Bigelow a master craftsman at constructing the mise en scène of every scene, she also manages to amp up the intensity in a style that not many directors can compete with. This technique is especially rewarding during the film’s final 30 minutes, where the profoundly intense SEAL Team Six raid takes place.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

This brings me now to the raid itself. It is severely understated to say that it is not only the most intense sequence in any movie from 2012; it is also the best. I seriously can’t remember another instance in a theater where I squeezed the armrest of my chair so tightly from feeling so affected by the scene’s intensity. Furthermore, the raid’s eerie background noises and the sounds of bullets, which replace a musical score, only add to the realism.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is a master class effort in filmmaking craftsmanship. It’s a movie that exceptionally dramatizes a famous 10-year time period in the history between the United States and al-Qaeda; it also effectively addresses both the emotions we battled and the people we lost, but ultimately concludes in all of us sharing a soothing breath of relief. One of the best films of 2012, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a must-see not only for awards season, but also for the amazing experience it takes you on.