Zero Dark Thirty

A fantastic, relentlessly tense and sharp tour de force by Kathryn Bigelow. Now I can join in the crowd to say that she was clearly snubbed for the Oscars. This is a bloody brilliant film/historical drama that despite its 157mins showtime is tightly paced and keeps the tension taut throughout. We all know what happens at the end: Geronimo dies. But the how? Many people may not know the details, and this film is definitely not 100% accurate or factual, but the gist of it is presented so clearly that the audience is kept gripped and on their toes and at the edge of their trepidatious seats all through the finale. In this case, other than Bigelow who directed this with fluid ease and translated all that to the screen, the other big star is Jessica Chastain. Her Maya is astonishing to watch. She acts with her whole body and despite minimal dialogue, Chastain was still able to convey the emotions so clearly through her face, her eyes and her posture. She literally carries this film on her shoulders. Her transformation through the years is shown early in the film and one can immediately identify what a tremendously gifted actress Chastain is. And at her final scene, her face goes through a gamut of emotions and Bigelow wisely chose to quietly focused on her and leave us open to interpret. That, and another explosive scene opposite Kyle Chandler (his movie career is really burgeoning no? A possible new Bradley Cooper?) where she lambast him with not-so-veiled threats (and the after-effect scene too) has got to surely be on her Oscar reel. I think this year's Best Actress race is a fight between Emmanuelle Riva and Jessica Chastain (with Naomi Watts third and Jennifer Lawrence now a distant fourth). The supporting cast are mainly there for Chastain to act off, but Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle and the aforementioned Chandler were all standouts in their own right (a bit surprised to see John Barrowman aka Captain Jack Harkness though). Mark Boal's script has its moments, but unfortunately, other than a straight forward chronological narrative, a few outstanding monologues, there is not much there in terms of originality (a very tough fight there with Michael Haneke's "Amour", Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" and the much hyped Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained"). Alexandre Desplat's score here is way better here than his Oscar-nominated one for the other historical drama "Argo" (of all Desplat's prolific output this season, I personally thought Argo's score was the worse of the lot). In this film, Bigelow has wisely chosen to downplay the score and use it more to underscore scenes rather than manipulating it for dramatic reasons or heightening the tension. In this way, I felt that the score was more organic to the film and more appropriate. In addition, it is also partly this choice that made Bigelow such a great (action) director: she choreograph her action scenes so well, that the anxiety feels natural and organic. Though the use of torture and violence is nakedly depicted, from a detached point of view, it is an historical dramatisation of the events and it made narrative sense. A very very brilliant film! Though one part of me just kept waiting for Claire Danes to pop up! (heh)

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