By John H. Foote
How is it after becoming the first woman to win both the Academy Award as Best Director and the Directors Guild of America as Best Director of 2009 that Kathryn Bigelow could surpass that achievement with her stunning film Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and NOT be Oscar nominated for Best Director? How could this happen? Her achievement in creating Zero Dark Thirty was astonishing because she created a movie about the hunt for and subsequent assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the most wanted man on the planet after 9/11.
The Hurt Locker (2009) was a powerful war film about a young specialist whose job it is to diffuse bombs, land mines or hidden explosive devices before they go off and damage American soldiers or civilians. James (Jeremy Renner) is a junkie for risk, it fuels him and he loves it. Watch his jaunty, even cocky walk in the bomb suit as he walks towards his destination. He is in his element. Bigelow’s film was a heat scorched masterpiece about American involvement in Afghanistan and the prickly relationships between the soldiers and the civilians they are there to protect. Critics loved the film, heaping praise upon it, praise that was deserved, but getting audiences to see the film was a challenge. It remains the lowest grossing Best Picture winner of the last 25 years.
Zero Dark Thirty was a greater film, darker, far more intense and Bigelow was far more deserving of an Oscar win for it than the first time.
The film tells the story of the young CIA operative that spent years searching for Bin Laden, and finally found him hiding in plain sight. She then had to wait for the CIA to accept her findings and wait for the President to approve her findings and launch an attack. As Maya (Jessica Chastain) the tough as nails intellect obsessed with finding Bin Laden, Chastain gives an extraordinary performance as a woman who dedicates her life to finding this man and killing him. When asked by the Navy Seals selected to find Bin Laden she says to them, “Bin Laden’s in there and you are going to kill him for me.”
The last 45 minutes of the film explore the events that took place as the Americans went into Pakistan and launched an attack that saw them kill Osama bin Laden without hesitation. They are shot in real time and give us some idea of what it was to attack that compound and kill the inhabitants. Children are spared of course, and we see clearly that they kill Bin Laden.
Relieved, at last, Maya can relax and boards a plane him, and finally allows herself tears as she weeps.
Superbly acted by the entire cast, Chastain the towering leader, there is not a weak link in this exceptional cast. Truths are not held back, as we see Maya take part in torturing a young man the first moments we encounter her. Superbly written, directed tautly, shot with startling immediacy and authenticity, everything about the film is perfect.
Zero Dark Thirty was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and two other awards, and won the coveted New York Film Critics’ Awards for Best Film, Best Actress, Best director and Best Cinematography.
Bigelow was cheated of an Oscar nomination, one that she richly deserved, and one that had she received, would have resulted in her second Academy Award win.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.