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Will Kathryn Bigelow's Osama Bin Laden Movie 'Zero Dark Thirty' Find Its Target Or Miss The Mark?

Features
by Oliver Lyttelton
October 19, 2012 12:00 PM
17 Comments
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Zero Dark Thirty, Joel Edgerton

This winter has something for most tastes -- animation ("Wreck-It Ralph"), historical drama ("Lincoln"), adult drama ("Flight"), musical ("Les Miserables"), comedy ("This Is 40"), action ("Skyfall" and "Jack Reacher") and western ("Django Unchained"), But almost nothing promises, in theory at least, to match up thrills and substance, as much as "Zero Dark Thirty." The long-gestating follow-up to Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal's Oscar-winning "The Hurt Locker," which revolves around the search for Osama Bin Laden, got a surprise new ending as it geared up for production when Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan last year.

After a rewrite, the film went into production earlier this year, and it's hitting theaters speedily just before Christmas. And after looking at the pros and cons of the other fall movies, we've got Drew Taylor and Oliver Lyttelton debating whether "Zero Dark Thirty" could be the next "Hurt Locker," or the next "K-19: The Widowmaker." Read on below, and let us know what you're feeling about the potentially controversial project in the comments section below.

"Zero Dark Thirty"

"Zero Dark Thirty"
"Zero Dark Thirty"
The Case For:
The last time screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow tackled a real-life military experience and saddled it with an impenetrably weird name, we got "The Hurt Locker," a genuine American masterpiece of unblinking suspense and the eventual winner of a whole host of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay for Boal and Best Director for Bigelow. For their follow-up, they've chosen to return to active duty with "Zero Dark Thirty," the story about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The title may be typically odd (it's the codename for when the strike on the palace where Bin Laden was staying would take place) but we are anticipating this film like few others.

The cast is genuinely breathtaking, even if we have the sinking suspicion that most actors will show up for a few minutes to briskly walk down a hallway or bark orders into a walkie talkie, before fading into the background. But to be honest, we don't really care what they're doing, as long as they're actors as good as Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, James Gandolfini, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez, Jennifer Ehle, and Kyle Chandler (is there anything Coach Taylor can't do?) Amazing what universal critical acclaim and a cruise ship full of awards and accolades can get you, huh?

If the two trailers are any indication, we're in the same immediate, you-are-there stylistic world of "The Hurt Locker" (although cinematographer Greig Fraser -- "Killing Them Softly" -- has taken over duties from the unstoppable Barry Ackroyd) and while the movie claims to be apolitical, you get the sense, from the top down, of the frustration of not finding the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks. After a decade, everyone is getting antsy. The trailers basically play a detective story on an incredibly huge scale, with whole governments and teams of people looking for one man. Of course, there are moral and ethical implications that swirl around the decision to go after him, and logistical nightmares that go along with a military strike force invading a country on the hunt for a single individual.

I have a feeling that no matter what Bigelow's depicting, though, whether it's assassins entering a residence at night or a policy wag cutting through red tape, it will play like the best kind of edge-of-your-seat thriller. If there's one creative team that could make Bin Laden's assassination even more exciting than it already was in real life, it's Bigelow and Boal.

Zero Dark Thirty James Gandolfini header
The Case Against
Honestly, "Zero Dark Thirty" is my most anticipated film of the season too -- just my kind of movie, with many of our favorite working actors, and of course Bigelow in control. But that's not to say that there aren't reasons to be a little cautious about the film.

For one, Bigelow might have become the toast of the town more recently, but we'd hardly call her consistent; "The Hurt Locker" is about two hundred times better than anything else on her CV (remember "The Weight Of Water" or "K-19: The Widowmaker," the two films before it?). And while it being in a similar wheelhouse to "The Hurt Locker" bodes relatively well, we're not sure that Bigelow's name is 100% confidence-inducing.

And even given the quality of "The Hurt Locker," there are differences here. For one, that film was essentially a character study, while here, unless the trailers have been wildly misleading, this is more of an ensemble piece. Will it pack the same emotional approach, or will it end up as an emotionally distant docu-drama, even with that great cast (also, while we're big fans of Chris Pratt, his presence can't help but make us think of the film as "Bert Macklin: Terrorist Hunter.")

We have to say that we're also a little concerned by the Jason Clarke monologue that opens the trailer -- that, and some other images, seem to suggest that torture plays a part in the film, but we're not sure how much the film is going to condemn it or at least present it in a moral grey zone, and that makes us somewhat uncomfortable. Hopefully it's just an ill-suited trailer. Again, we're looking forward to the film, but it could be worth moderating your expectations.

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17 Comments

  • Dingo Bongo | October 23, 2012 4:10 PMReply

    I think the trailer does a great job illustrating the plot of this movie. I'm going to be very surprised if the film is not primarily about the female analyst that tracked bin Laden down. Her frustrations, dead-ends, puzzle-solving, and briefings with her male superiors and the male warriors sent to kill bin Laden. Jessica Chastain plays the woman who proves the American macho-millitary mindset is as baseless and outdated as bin Laden's fundamentalist beliefs about gender roles. The most amazing part about this whole chapter in history is that it was a dedicated, talented, and brilliant woman who found him. Bigelow and Boal would be fools to not have not made this a central part of the movie.

    Well, those are my predictions anyway. If the movie doesn't offer a strong critique of gender roles I'll be surprised.

  • AW | October 25, 2012 12:38 PM

    For many decades, fully 50% of the analysts at the CIA (for example) have been women - that's nothing new, nor does it have anything to do with the ongoing debate over combat roles for women. And since all the Navy commandos who actually killed Bin Laden were men, there's no "change of gender roles" there, either, for Bigelow to focus on.
    I, for one, hope that this movie _won't_ be yet another heavy-handed attempt to use a historical event to push a political agenda on the audience, and Bigelow has said that it won't.

  • Kilo Bravo | October 20, 2012 9:41 PMReply

    I don't know why people are speculating so much on the monologue at the begninning of the trailer. That soliloquoy is much more indicative of a standard interrogation than of so called torture techniques. The number of assshole terrorists that were actually "tortured" during the hunt for UBL is less than 20 according to all sourced information, and that is on the high end. While I wouldn't want to be kept awake for days on end with music blaring or forced to stand, that is not real torture. Shit, if that's torture than every recruit in boot camp is tortured, and every guy that's ever worked a manual labor job is tortured.

    Besides the point, Boal says he tried to get the persepctive of the boots on the ground that put in all the hours tracking, tracing, and connecting the millions of pieces of info that went into finding this asshole, and I hope that is the aim of the movie. That's the really incredible part that ppl need to understand so the regular everyday head up their ass standing in line at Starbucks American can get an idea of the kind of lifestyle and commitment it takes to find one man that doesn't want to be found, in a region and country that regards him as a hero, and hunted by the same kind of guys we all grew up with....After reading all of the books put out about the raid and the decade leading up to it, Boal and Bigelow would ruin an otherwise epic story if they followed the Hollywood groupthink of trying to demonize operators that follow orders to protect out country. 'Act of Valor' was criticized by some limp-wrist media types that it is a Pro-American film. Well whiskey tango foxtrot is wrong with that? If you don't believe that a movie showing the skill, courage, and sacrifice of servicemen in a realistic portrait, then you should cash in your citizenship and move the fuck out.

  • AW | October 20, 2012 12:46 PMReply

    Bigelow was originally going to release this movie in October right before the U.S. presidential election, leading to speculation that the film was designed to help re-elect Barack Obama. I don't know whether Bigelow ever confirmed that or not.

  • JD | October 19, 2012 5:26 PMReply

    The Hurt Locker is two hundred times better then anything else on Bigelow's resume? Really? Remember Strange Days? Point Break, one of the greatest action movies ever made? Near Dark, one of the best horror films of all time? And Weight Of Water's not a bad movie either.

  • Archer Slyce | October 20, 2012 6:40 AM

    I gotta join the choir here ... Near dark is an amazing modern horror movie (even Carpenter said so when he made Vampires).

  • Xas | October 20, 2012 6:04 AM

    100% agree -I love "Near Dark" and I appreciate more "Weight of Water" for a second view-... Maybe Bigelow's only weakest film is K-19.

  • Danielle | October 19, 2012 1:53 PMReply

    I'm looking forward to this film the cast looks
    awesome! When I watched the two trailer I was like
    WOW THIS MOVIE LOOKS SO COOL! I had to shear it with
    a few of my twitter friends.
    I can't wait intill ZDT comes out this December.

  • Glass | October 19, 2012 2:49 PM

    Yes, big fun time MOVIES GO!! 0101110101111 (Property of Columbia Pictures Marketing)

  • Mijo | October 19, 2012 1:02 PMReply

    Hurt Locker was soooooooo overrated.

  • Some Dude | October 21, 2012 12:03 PM

    Agreed.

  • Fred | October 19, 2012 1:00 PMReply

    "but we're not sure how much the film is going to condemn it or at least present it in a moral grey zone" By that should we assume you hope for the sort of THIS IS ALL SO WRONG histrionics that "Green Zone" adapted? Messages are fine until they suck the life out of your movie. Among the many reasons that "The Hurt Locker" worked well was its refusal to let the left or the right hang their politics comfortably on its back. Do we really hope for the subtle messaging stylings of a Rocky Mountain Pictures project for the left for this one?

  • CC | October 19, 2012 12:28 PMReply

    The case against? Another piece of jingoistic American propaganda?

  • CC | October 19, 2012 2:40 PM

    @Lemmy: ...and thank you for proving my point....

  • Lemmy | October 19, 2012 12:39 PM

    Go back to Russia, pinko.

  • Markunator | October 19, 2012 12:39 PM

    Something which it most certainly is NOT.

  • Glass | October 19, 2012 12:21 PMReply

    I'm excited for it, but as a completely uninitiated audience member, that trailer really didn't get the plot across. You CAN piece together that it's about the Seal Team 6 raid in the end, but I understood why people in my theater were like "wat." when the trailer ended.

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