Not quite satisfied with making history as the first female Oscar winner for Best Director with The Hurt Locker (2008), Kathryn Bigelow, working again with screenwriter Mark Boal, is back with Zero Dark Thirty, another topical and suspenseful Middle East adventure that’s already a serious contender for this year’s top Oscars. The new film expands far beyond the modest scope of its predecessor, taking on one of the biggest stories of recent years, the decade-long, multi-country search for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and how it eventually found closure, a mere 19 months ago (maybe you heard about that part). […]
“The Hurt Locker” comes damn close to earning masterpiece status. Only in the scenes between the action does the film occasionally falter; in individuating the bomb squad crew, a few character choices and set pieces have the whiff of the war-movie generic about them, and we find ourselves itching to get back to the field, to escape the hackneyed struggles and occasionally overcooked drama of the base. Nothing matches the filmmaking of the utterly believable and wrenching missions, and we start to experience a little bit of the high, the tiniest sense of the drug of war. Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, and David Morse hit hard in their well-wrought cameos. To criticize the weak parts would be nitpicking; perhaps the audience needs the break from all the breathholding, armrest clutching, tension. The craziness of the entire enterprise holds and fills the screen; insurgents and innocents watch impassively, impossibly, calmly, as their world is blown to smithereens. Images sear with the power of truth and horrible beauty – a scraggly cat limping among the ruins of a war-torn street, a little boy made into a bomb lying on a table, a nighttime cityscape scarier than anything you can conjure on your own. The heat, the firefights, the madness. “Hurt Locker” works like a fever dream, installing unforgettable memories directly into your brain. A work of tremendous power and focus, the film demands much of the viewer and rewards the effort tenfold.