First Reviews for ZERO DARK THIRTY Heap Praise on Kathryn Bigelow’s Intense Procedural and Jessica Chastain’s Lead Performance; Plus First TV Spot

     November 26, 2012

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2012 is likely to go down in history as a banner year for film, and with nearly a month left to go before year’s end there are still a number of highly anticipated films poised to hit theaters.  High on that list is The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow’s drama about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, and the pic finally debuted to critics yesterday to an incredibly positive reaction.  The production has been shrouded in a thick veil of secrecy given the sensitive subject matter, but many have high hopes for the film’s awards chances since the pic reteams Best Director winner Bigelow with her Oscar-winning Hurt Locker scribe Mark Boal.

It appears that those early guesstimates were entirely founded, as critics had plenty of high praise for the procedural thriller following its debut screenings yesterday.  Hit the jump to read some of the noteworthy reactions and to watch the first TV spot for the film.

jessica-chastain-zero-dark-thirtyFor those unaware, Zero Dark Thirty focuses on the decade-long manhunt of Osama bin Laden as seen through the eyes of an obsessed CIA analyst played by Jessica Chastain who is spearheading the search.  Variety’s Peter Debruge describes the film’s focus thusly:

“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.”

THR’s Todd McCarthy singles out Chastain’s performance, noting the difficulty in playing a character that is given very little backstory:

“Chastain carries the film in a way she’s never been asked to do before. Denied the opportunity to provide psychological and emotional details for Maya, she nonetheless creates a character that proves indelible and deeply felt.”

zero-dark-thirtyMcCarthy also notes Bigelow’s excellent direction in driving the pic:

Zero Dark Thirty could well be the most impressive film Bigelow has made, as well as possibly her most personal, as one keenly feels the drive of the filmmaker channeled through the intensity of Maya’s character. The film’s power steadily and relentlessly builds over its long course, to a point that is terrifically imposing and unshakable.”

The film appears to be an out-and-out procedural, and HitFix’s Drew McWeeny praises Bigelow’s straightforward vision:

“It feels like [Bigelow] has finally reached a place where she has stripped all artifice from her approach, and she’s made a film that is pure procedural, the Zodiac approach to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.  I can’t tell you for sure that the film has anything to do with the unvarnished truth, but I can tell you that this feels accurate.  It has an integrity to it that is bracing and adult, and it manages to deliver a major visceral experience without ever once bending to Hollywood convention.  This is a film that knows exactly what it’s doing, and does it without compromise.”

zero-dark-thirty-mark-strongThis journalistic feel to the film may prove to be a tough watch for some viewers, though, as The Playlist’s Rodrigo Perez notes the film’s possibly divisive nature:

Zero Dark Thirty may be polarizing for some, and will surely test casual moviegoers – hence the move to push the film into January wide release so the critical buzz has time to build. It’s dense, crushingly systematic and disciplined with a payoff that everyone already knows about.”

As for that widely-known payoff, most everyone agrees that it’s an incredibly impressive sequence.  McWeeny details the effect in his review:

“Greig Fraser’s cinematography is great and grounded throughout, but there is almost no other sequence this year that I can compare to the assault on Bin Laden’s compound.  Shot in no-light situations in several stretches, it is an incredibly staged sequence, tense and brutal and direct, and perhaps the single greatest expression of everything Bigelow’s worked towards in the staging of action over the years.”

zero-dark-thirty-jessica-chastainJames Rocchi nicely sums up the films appeal in his positive review for BoxOffice.com:

“Stark and tough and smart, Zero Dark Thirty is a masterwork from a master filmmaker, a truly exceptional work that combines the questions and qualms so often found in the grey areas of the real world with the kind of storytelling and art so rarely found in the shared darkness of the movie theater.”

We just spent the past four days running down some of the major players in the upcoming Oscar race, and it’s now safe to say that Zero Dark Thirty is a bonafide contender.  Awards Daily’s Sasha Stone is high on the prospects of Chastain, Bigelow, and Boal:

“Jessica Chastain gives far and away the best performance of the year by any actress, at least here in the US… Bigelow directs the shit out of this movie. The Bin Laden raid involves some of the most exciting scenes put on film this year or any year… Boal’s dialogue stands out more this time, with one zinger after another. He must take the lead in the original screenplay race, I’m guessing.”

zero-dark-thirty-kyle-chandlerKris Tapley over at HitFix’s In Contention awards blog is less certain about the film’s prospect of winning the major awards, though:

“I mentioned to a colleague who’s over the moon and thinks it’s assured a spot in the Best Picture category that you might be hard-pressed to find another nominee this sterile. All the President’s Men might be a template. (Might.) It’s not a film of overt emotion…I’m tip-toeing too much there. It’s not a film of emotion at all, really.”

“Chastain is poised to enter the Best Actress race, sure. She might threaten a win, she might not. I’ll be interested to see how this dense, long film is received overall before really committing an opinion on that. But throughout the crafts, you could see respect paid. The film editing, the production design, the sound, all crucial.”

Zero Dark Thirty opens in limited release on December 19th and expands wide on January 11th.

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