February 24, 2013

My Best Picture, My Best Actress



Zero Dark Thirty is my best picture this year. 
It is an unflinching film that puts forth the efforts of nameless people against the war on terror.  For a film that is very “of the moment” it is intricately detailed and exceptionally well made. 

Zero Dark Thirty presented events as it is.  No commentary, no director point of view.  It is troubling and very uncomfortable to sit through but that is what I see a Best Picture film should do.  It should place a mirror to society in order to push the viewer to think and let them see where they stand.  It is precisely the presentation of the moral ambiguities in this film that I have come to really appreciate it.  Because I thought it respected me as a viewer by not “dumbing it down” by leading me into a point of view.  I don't want to be preached to in a movie.  Instead, it allowed me to form my own conclusions.  The torture scenes are troubling and I don’t think anyone I knew who saw the movie thought that the film “glorified” torture as its detractors have stated.  In fact, watching those scenes would just re-iterate how appalling and inhumane it was.  It is unfortunate that this existed as part of a former administration’s policy but we also have to be brave enough to face the truth.    

The events highlighted in the scenes where the agents were sifting through data and interrogation footage are mostly a slow burn.  But I thought that the pace just emphasizes the almost impossible task and constant frustration of this mission.  These scenes are juxtaposed with real life events such as the London bombings and the bombing of the Marriot Hotel which reminds the audience of how much is at stake in this hunt.  The raid sequence at the end puts the viewer on the ground with the SEAL team and provides the most nerve wracking and edge of your seat anxiety inducing sequence I’ve seen in a film.  Shot in night vision goggles, it feels so real.  So raw.  But pure brilliance in filmmaking!

Throughout the film, we the audience see the story through Maya.  She’s the lone CIA agent whose instincts direct her to follow her lead to find Bin Laden through his courier, Abu Ahmed.  She is the strongest female lead among all the characters of the Best Actress nominees this year.   It didn’t bother me that she didn’t have a backstory.  Jessica Chastain who played Maya with an all-consuming tenacity is outstanding in this role.  She is my Best Actress this year.  She developed from a CIA newbie to a seasoned interrogator who was able to read into what the detainees weren't telling them. Her portrayal is very subtle, less ego-driven and less flashy so that when she explodes in the middle of the film towards her boss, Bradley (Kyle Chandler), you are taken aback with the bottled frustration she releases.  It’s a performance that makes the viewer work had to pay attention at the nuances.  It draws the viewer in and if you miss it, too bad because it’s all there......in her eyes, forrow of her brows and hunch of her shoulders.  Detailed, determined and confident.  I think it’s more difficult to pull off a subtle performance convincingly and she did it here exceptionally well.

I know the film will not win Best Picture because of the “torture controversy”.  Heck, Kathryn Bigelow (my Best Director pick) wasn’t even nominated!  The Oscars just don’t like controversial films.  Oscar pundits have also stated that Chastain’s shot for Best Actress might now be a long shot because of this.  Who knows until later tonight.  All I know is, this is a film that my friends and I keep talking about even weeks after we’ve seen it.  It fosters a good discussion.  I feel that maybe as years go on, it will be remembered as a great film or maybe an important one.  The last scene when Maya finally shows her release and cries, is for me, the most indelible image from any film this year.  It’s powerful and haunting. 
 
(photo from IMDB.com)

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