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

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist October 19, 2012 at 12:00PM

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.
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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.

This article is related to: Features, Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow


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