By Matt Singer | Criticwire November 26, 2012 at 11:31AM
We've yet to record any grades for Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" on our Criticwire Network yet, but the film's first reviews are out, and they are very positive, if not exactly wild with enthusiasm. That appears to be in keeping with the tone of the film itself, which by all critical accounts so far is reserved and austere and not in any way sensationalistic about the CIA's decade long hunt for Osama bin Laden. Some pundits have been wringing their hands for months about this film and its portrayal of the American intelligence community, specifically over the confidential information Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (reuniting from the Oscar-winning film "The Hurt Locker") allegedly received from the Obama administration and were then allegedly going to use to swing the election for the President. Turns out, the film opens well after the election, and Obama -- not to mention George W. Bush -- barely appears. Critics are describing this as a "procedural" and a piece of "journalism" in movie form, not a propaganda piece for the President.
If you're into the "Oscar ramifications" of this sort of thing, most of the reviews say "Zero Dark Thirty" should be a contender for Best Picture and Best Actress, thanks to Jessica Chastain's performance as the CIA officer who assembled the intel that finally brought down bin Laden. Still, the Oscar experts were also relatively muted in their praise, especially compared to the orgy of excitement that greeted the first screening of "Les Miserables" a few days earlier. I suppose sweeping weepy musicals are more well-equipped than nuanced espionage dramas to capture gold statues (If not wanted international terrorists). Here are more than a dozen of the first reviews of "Zero Dark Thirty." It opens in theaters on December 19th.
"If 'Argo' and 'United 93' had a baby, it would be 'Zero Dark Thirty.'"
"In the tradition of Truman Capote’s 'In Cold Blood' and Tom Wolfe’s 'The Right Stuff,' Boal tracked down the particulars of a sensational exploit and, skipping the “non-fiction novel” stage, created an original screenplay that provides a streamlined timeline of the hunt for bin Laden. The word 'docudrama' doesn’t hint at Boal’s achievement. This is movie journalism that snaps and stings, that purifies a decade’s clamor and clutter into narrative clarity, with a salutary kick."
"Far more ambitious than 'The Hurt Locker,' yet nowhere near so tripwire-tense, this procedure-driven, decade-spanning docudrama nevertheless rivets for most of its running time by focusing on how one female CIA agent with a far-out hunch was instrumental in bringing down America's most wanted fugitive."
"A long, cerebral and emotionally draining story, but it holds interest throughout."
"As a follow-up film to her Oscar-winning 'The Hurt Locker,' this true-life thriller again finds Bigelow investigating the toll taken on those engaged in warfare, but her commitment to a dispassionate, stripped-down approach results in a film whose impact sneaks up on you, leaving you blindsided by its visceral final reels."
"Wherever you fall, the climax contains serious payoff."
"Whether you call it well informed speculative history, docu-drama recreation or very stripped down suspense filmmaking, 'Zero Dark Thirty' matches form and content to pretty terrific ends."
"This is a hollowpoint bullet of a film, and it's going to rattle around inside me for days as I reflect on it, and I look forward to seeing it again very soon."
"One day after we Oscarologists saw 'Les Miserables' and pegged it as a serious frontrunner, we saw 'Zero Dark Thirty' and it's clear: this is a solid Best Picture nominee."
"An electric, sprawling and ambitious effort that’s easy to become absorbed by, and a picture that should impress those keen on the director’s intelligent, composed and determined brand of filmmaking."
"This is as fine a piece of filmmaking as you will see."
"A rarity, a truly entertaining film that never condescends to its audience or cheapens history and truth."
"Jessica Chastain gives far and away the best performance of the year by any actress, at least here in the US."
"I still feel 'The Hurt Locker' has more overall resonance, particularly thematically, but this is some top-notch work."
"No question that this movie advances the careers of Chastain and [Jason] Clarke and will knock Ben Affleck's popular 'Argo' down a notch."