Today! Because if bin Laden isn’t there, you can sneak away and no one will be the wiser. But bin Laden is there. And you’re going to kill him for me –
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, James Gandolfini (x2), Kyle Chandler (x4), Mark Strong (x2), Jennifer Ehle, Mark Duplass, Edgar Ramirez (x2), John Barrowman, Taylor Kinney, Frank Grillo, Mike Colter, Stephen Dillane, Harold Perrineau, Reda Kateb, Mark Valley
The movie most often credited with giving us the biggest movie star in the world – for a brief period, anyway – Jurassic World/Guardians of the Galaxy/The Lego Movie’s Chris Pratt, Zero Dark Thirty also introduced to a wide audience the absolutely tremendous Jason Clarke, who has gone on to have a very solid Hollywood career, even if he hasn’t played a ton of heroes in hugely successful franchises. He took a swing at it, playing John Conner in Terminator Genisys, proving all his choices weren’t going to be first rate.
But if you had been even casually watching television in the late ’00s/early ’10s, you’d have run across the still decidedly un-buff Pratt as Andy Dwyer on Parks & Recreation, while Clarke toiled away on the very solid police procedural The Chicago Code, which was the first time I saw him in anything. And then – the epic Osama bin Laden manhunt adventure Zero Dark Thirty! Unfortunately, it came along in the thunderdome of film excellence that was 2012, and so had a tough time standing out come award shows. It’s still kinda bullshit Clarke wasn’t nominated almost anywhere for his work as the interrogator/torturer here.
But man, how great is this movie? I’m not one for the current, vaguely grotesque sub-genre of jingoistic pro-soldier v. evil faceless desert villain films which have largely followed ZDT, but it doesn’t exactly follow the pattern it weirdly set in place. The vast majority of this movie is the manhunt itself, and the litany of obstacles both logistic and bureaucratic in their way, not the military action that (spoiler alert) kills the living hell out of Usama – the portion of the film that has seemed to spawn your American Snipers and Lone Survivors and 12 Strongs and 13 Hours and so on. After The Hurt Locker and this, Kathryn Bigelow should be the only person allowed to make these movies. At least they don’t come off like ugly glory-of-war recruitment films.
As great a year as 2012 was, the awards season got locked into a pretty steady routine after a point – #274 Argo became this oddball spite-filled favorite for Best Picture after Affleck didn’t get nominated for directing, the great Daniel Day-Lewis was always going to win for Lincoln, Anne Hathaway was always going to win for Les Miserables, and Best Director seemed irrelevant after the whole snub thing (Ang Lee won for Life of Pi, which was well deserved). The one thing still up in the air at least a little was Best Actress – you had the youngest and oldest nominees ever in the category in the same year, Quvenzhane Wallis and Emmanuelle Riva, plus Naomi Watts for a movie no one saw (The Impossible), so it looked to come down to the two from Best Picture nominees that weren’t overly gimmicky – Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook. As spread around as the awards went in ’12 – with the top six all going to different movies – this was the only chance for either film to take home something substantial, really, and Chastain got robbed. Look, Silver Linings is cute for what it is, but so much of it glories in the hilarity of mild mental illness, not to mention the tone getting scattered all over the place thanks to the heavy improv-leaning scene work, that it barely manages to hold together. Zero Dark Thirty may have been the best movie in one of the best years ever, and it went home with Best Sound Editing, after not even getting nominated for Directing. It’s pretty ridiculous.
Still, it’s not like Zero Dark was totally ignored. It did get Best Picture, Screenplay, and Film Editing nods in addition to Actress and Sound Editing, while Chastain won Best Actress – Drama at the Globes, where Bigelow did manage a Directing nomination. It won Best Picture and Director from the New York Film Critics, the National Board of Review, the Boston Society of Film Critics, and the Chicago Film Critics Association, but there was still too steep a hill to climb at the televised shows. Too bad! But you know, even with all the new Two-Timers today, and Kyle Chandler joining the Fours (Argo, #258 King Kong, #388 The Wolf of Wall Street), I’m going with director Bigelow for the spotlight! Creator of the two best contemporary military films of the era! Suck it, Peter Berg! (Again, I really like The Great White Hype, though)