By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
Two great thrillers about historical C.I.A. operations were released recently to much deserved acclaim. On one side of the coin is Ben Affleck’s Argo, an exciting, but more sensationalized movie account of the Canadian Caper which aided the U.S. embassy members trapped in Iran in 1979. On the flipside is Kathryn Bigelow’s much more realistic and unflinching portrayal of the hunt of Osama bin Laden. The later appealed more to my taste, as I prefer realism over sensationalized drama. Bigelow, along with screenwriter Mark Boal deserve much praise for making this more deliberate and adept film which feels more like a documentary than a feature. In addition to the excellence in writing and directing, the outstanding ensemble cast really pulls it all together to make this one of the best films of the year.
Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, C.I.A. officer Maya’s (Jessica Chastain) first and only assignment has been to acquire intelligence on the whereabouts of al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. First working with seasoned operative Dan (Jason Clarke) in Pakistan, the two manage to get some promising leads through the torture of detainees connected to terrorists. After a whole decade of hard work overcoming many obstacles, a particular lead, once believed to be a dead-end, puts Maya exactly where she has dreamt of being.
Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, who both previously worked together on the also outstanding movie The Hurt Locker, have done it again. This time the story is of much grander and epic proportions and these two talented filmmakers pull it off beautifully. Boal and Bigelow make their audiences feel a part of the action and the experiences their characters go through. They do keep the character development to a minimum, but allow the audience to get a good feel for their personalities, particularly the Maya character. While we, the audience, never learn anything about her background, we learn enough about her personality, her perseverance, and we experience the highs, lows, and frustrations of her journey. It truly feels like an intense roller coaster as we want her to catch bin Laden almost as much as she does.
Jessica Chastain does an amazing job in this role. When I first heard of her casting as this character, I wasn’t sure she was right for it. It seems like such a strong and edgy character for an actress who appears sweet and delicate. However, just as Maya’s confidence convinces the S.E.A.L. squadron leader Patrick (Joel Edgerton) that their mission is the real deal, Chastain’s confidence in this role convinced me otherwise. The film also features an excellent ensemble supporting cast which I could probably list nearly endlessly. So, I will just stick to the principals. Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle and Mark Strong all perform admirably. Honestly, though, this really is Chastain’s show and she deserves all the nominations she has received.
While this didn’t rise to the top of my best films of 2012, it still earns a place as my number 3. It is with little reservation that I recommend this film as a full priced ticket. I will go on to warn that the film does feature some intense torture scenes which can be difficult to watch, as well as other realistic combat violence. If one can handle this, then go see this movie.