With the Oscars’ nominations comes the slew of “hot” films from the US. I say “hot” films… they’re pretty luke warm once they get here, considering they’ve been out across the Atlantic for a good few weeks or months. And with those accolades comes a hell of a lot of pressure, as you’re almost pre-conditioned to expect the film you’re about to see to be at the top of its game. For some, it can also alter their opinions: for better, or for worse. On one hand you may be so psyched for the film that it’s not going to live up to its hype, but on the other hand your opinion could be favourably improved as you sit there thinking “well, everyone else loves this… Perhaps I do too?” I can tell you that The Phage is as swayed by these opinions as an oak tree is. We like to make up our own opinions… so let’s begin the season to be
jolly glamorous daaarling with Zero Dark Thirty…
This is a film that can’t have escaped your attention owing to the fact that it also made international news headlines thanks to its touchy content: torture and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Yes, this is that film. Behind the camera we have Kathryn Bigalow – the Academy Award winning director that brought you The Hurt Locker – another current affairs / war based epic. I still think Point Break‘s her best outing to date, but who doesn’t love a bit of surfer Keanu Reeves dude? Bodacious. Gnarly. Rad.
But back on track and onto the plot (if you hadn’t guessed it already). Zero Dark Thirty follows the posting of CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) to the Middle East as she attempts to track down the leading Al-Qaeda generals that were on the loose following the events of September 11th 2001. And who’s the big target? Osama Bin Laden, of course. I can’t spoil the plot as every man and his dog knows the outcome of this particular hunt for America’s previous “Most Wanted”, but not many people appreciate how much intelligence work went into the man hunt. The film swears its telling the true accounts of people that were there over the decade-long hunt for Bin Laden – the US government disagrees with this statement somewhat, so I guess it’s up to you to make up your own minds.
Zero Dark Thirty is a very dry movie – it’s heavy on emotion, heavy on drama and heavy on suspense, despite the fact that you know the outcome from the outset. The torture scenes are indeed barbaric and retreading all of the terrorist events, from the attack on New York in 2001 to the July 7th bombings in London and everything in between and since, has been covered. For some it’ll re-open wounds that are best left to heal. Some may argue that this film is “too soon”, just as The Hurt Locker was “too soon” after the US-Iraq War. I’ve got to hand it to Kathryn Bigalow; she’s a gutsy woman to tackle all of this. But what concerns me is that she’s followed up a “true to life” war drama with… a “true to life” war drama. I really worry about her becoming set in a rut here if she continues this. If 2014 brings Point Break 2: Bodacious Waves then maybe she won’t succumb to being tarred with that brush.
Aside from the content of the film, much has also been made of Jessica Chastain‘s performance here. I’m very relieved to say that she is utterly compelling as Maya. You see her development from a somewhat shocked rookie through to hardened and determined agent. She runs every emotion over the film’s lengthy 157 minute runtime and really sells you every single one. I’m convinced she’s a shoe-in for an Award in the upcoming season. Sure, I really liked Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, but it can’t compare to this, can it? A lot of credit has to go to the entire supporting cast too, especially Jason Clarke‘s Dan, but this is really Chastain‘s vehicle, with many other characters simply being “there”.
Whilst I admired how gritty and real Bigalow has kept Zero Dark Thirty (I don’t think I’ve ever heard a machine gun sound so offensively realistic in a cinema. Absolutely sublime editing and effects), it still had its problems for me. I just found myself getting distracted as the film progressed. Some of the sections just felt very long-winded and drawn out, as I waited for the pace to once again pick up and become engaging. Sure, Chastain held every scene admirably, but I wanted more. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting a war movie here. This isn’t meant to be Full Metal Jacket and I get that, but I still wanted something else.
Overall, I’m in agreement that Zero Dark Thirty deserves the praise that’s being lauded on it: it’s visceral, suspenseful and supremely acted out by Jessica Chastain. But it just failed to hit those really high notes for me. I definitely can’t brand it a classic, as I can’t see myself wanting to re-watch it again, which for me is the hallmark of a truly fantastic movie. But it is another solid film for Kathryn Bigalow. I just hope that she diversifies her subject matter in future endeavours.
So despite the hype, I fail to see why Zero Dark Thirty should stand head and shoulders above the other nominations that I’ve seen so far. Although we remain highly impartial until we’ve seen the film ourselves, we can’t help but feel a little let down that it isn’t the stone-cold classic we were anticipating. Having said that, if someone wants to start hyping up Point Break 2 then I’m totally on board that hype train. Full steam ahead dude!!
Great review. I think I may be the only person in the work who hasn’t seen this.
Cheers dude! I think it’s definitely worth checking out to see if the hype is merited. Even just judging by the comments so far today, people enjoyed different parts of it to varying degrees. Not quite a marmite film (love it or hate it), but still very subjective!
Nice review. It’s an interesting point about the release dates. I find it frustrating having to wait for films to be shown here in the UK that have often been out for months in the US, and don’t see the point. Unless I’m missing something, I read that it’s mainly done to allow word of mouth to spread, but I’ve always thought that can be as damaging for a film as it can be beneficial. And in this day and age when publicity cogs start whirring long before a film actually appears anywhere (sometimes a year or longer), is it even necessary any more? Very very hard to avoid plot summaries / reviews / general public perception of a film before it is released these days, which is a shame.
The release staggering winds me up severely. Wreck-It Ralph, which I reviewed last week, still isn’t due over here for another week. It’s incredible that we’re almost the last country in the world to receive the film. We speak the same damn language as the US (OK, we speak it properly, but still…), so they don’t need to re-dub or re-do anything. But then again, as I said last week, at least we’ll get Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World before the US. The hype machine seems to work better in the US as they all get incredibly wound up online that the UK gets something first. Seemingly, our frustrations are never aired. As you say, the hype can backfire if it flops in the US. In the piracy age I really question the logic of it as the DVD is typically out in the US around the time of the cinema release in the UK. That surely damages profits!
Nice write up dude. I liked the film, but enjoyed the action stuff more yet didnt feel there was enough of it. Also wasnt a fan of Chastain…….but Jason Clarke was incredible, and if he wasnt torturing people he would be up for an Oscar for sure.
Totally with you on Jason Clarke – it’d be too dicey to give him a nomination this year for that role. Think we’re in agreement though – it just felt like a grind in places for me. Especially when you’d just rolled over the two hour mark and they’re not even in May 2011…
Good review Phage. I really, really liked this picture. I can’t wait to see it again.
I remember reading your review when you posted it up and I tried to not let it cloud my judgement as you could tell that you really enjoyed it. It was no doubt a great film… I just couldn’t slam anything higher than a 4 on it. Maybe Lincoln will take a 5? Stay tuned on that one…
Good write-up here. You mention “Luke-warn” and that’s exactly how I’d describe my feelings on the film as a whole. Many have praised it but it just wasn’t for me. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. 🙂
Yeah, I’m looking back at it now and feeling much the same. Maybe the 4 was even a little generous… I’m unsure. It certainly wasn’t a bona fide classic though, that’s for sure.
I’ll be posting my review tomorrow if you’re interested but I find it difficult to be generous. At most, I’d give it 2.5. It’s was all a little to close to propaganda for me.
I’ll definitely keep my eye on the reader for it. I’m wondering if the fact that I’m not from the US makes any difference on my perception of the film… Who knows…
Good review! A friend of mine rated it a 10/10 and I am more in line with your perspective of the film. A good entry but the high notes in parts needed to be hit and instead we were subjected to some drawn out mediocrity. Like Mark said – “Luke Warm” I second that term. Thanks for the write up!
Wow, a 10/10, aka a “Classic”? Interesting take on it. As I say, some people adored it – I know Keith did (above). I’m in total agreement though – the pace was uneven for me. Brilliant high points, but a lot of middling bits!