With the much-anticipated release of action-auteur cum Oscar-winning powerhouse Kathryn Bigelow's new war-drama Zero Dark Thirty, 2012 ends on a somber, protracted note of artful despair. Following her masterpiece 2009 war film The Hurt Locker, which became one of the only recent films deserving of its Best Picture Oscar-win, the strategic, expressive mise en scene of this singular artist flexes tersely once again, in conjunction with her prior film. For Zero Dark Thirty is, if nothing more, a brilliant companion piece to Hurt Locker, his and hers, masculine/feminine. Mark Boal's muscular, intimate script for the first film was a marvel of gesture and intimation; extolling the latent impulses of the masculine war ethic, he and the attuned Bigelow gleaned inner truths about our country's instilled verbiage of violence let loose on a global plane.
The circular autonomy of Locker is repeated, yet differently, in their stunning new collaboration. Zero is much more than the sum of its parts, however flawed many aspects, including its length, may be. Moored by a breathtaking grasp entailing some of the strongest recent technichal facets of any mainstream American film, including, but not limited to, film editing, sound design, and visual effects, Bigelow goes Locker one more with a bigger budget and larger thematic grasp, which she unfortunately cannot always exceed. Luckily for her, as well as us, this trenchant, mercurial film is moored by Jessica Chastain's complex, shattering performance as Maya, a one-woman forcefield, who extolls years of her life to tracking down and destroying Osama Bin Laden.
Much has been made of the film's uneven politics, misrepresentations of the truth, com[parisons to torture porn. Suffice it to say that Bigelow's mastery of theme and style transcends most of these qualms, as her narrative grips us in a vice-like trance. Ultimately, despite being one of her most jagged films in some time (her least perfect since thwe still fascinating Weight of Water a decade ago), Zero Dark Thirty is ultimately one of her most hypnotic and powerful. Chastain stands beside Jeremy Renner's protagonist as one of her richest, most consuming characters. The problematic, uneven aspects of the venture are in the end subsumed by the scope and fury of her vision; humanity and violence in all their stunning mystery.