dvd let­ter­box

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Michael Bodey Twit­ter:@michael­bodey

THE dust has set­tled and all the 2013 Acad­emy Award best pic­ture nom­i­nees have been re­leased on DVD or are avail­able to down­load.

The fi­nal strag­gler is Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and screen­writer Mark Boal’s fol­low-up to their 2009 best pic­ture Os­car win­ner, The Hurt Locker.

And of the nine best pic­ture nom­i­nees this year, I con­sider Zero Dark Thirty (M, Icon, 157 min, $29.99) and Michael Haneke’s Amour to be the best of the bunch.

Sure, Ben Af­fleck’s Argo won the main prize this year and it is a very en­ter­tain­ing thriller, but there’s some­thing lack­ing that means it doesn’t quite hit you as emo­tion­ally as other films.

Amour, as dis­cussed last week in brief, has this, and will ar­guably be viewed as the only mas­ter­piece of the bunch. Zero Dark Thirty isn’t a mas­ter­piece or even as emo­tion­ally wrench­ing a film as Amour but it none­the­less kicks you in the gut as a rip­ping thriller.

It was un­der­val­ued as such. Its ma­jor prob­lem was not of the film’s do­ing. Dis­cus­sion about its mer­its was hi­jacked by crit­i­cism that the film about the pur­suit of Osama bin Laden ap­peared to con­done tor­ture. Then there was the crit­i­cism that the film fo­cused on the Amer­i­can side of the story, at the ex­pense of the Pak­ista­nis and/or ter­ror­ists.

The lat­ter point was self-de­feat­ing; the na­ture of the con­flict says the en­emy is largely un­known. And Bigelow and Boal would ob­vi­ously be more sim­patico with the Amer­i­can nar­ra­tive. Nev­er­the­less, John Stock­well’s tele­movie on the same sub­ject, Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden, por­trayed the sub­plot of two Pak­istani fix­ers ef­fec­tively.

I hadn’t re­ally got the Jessica Chas­tain thing be­fore this film ei­ther. She seemed to be one of those ac­tors who was ubiq­ui­tous be­cause Hol­ly­wood de­cided she should be the new star, just as it had with Shia LaBeouf (al­though I still don’t get the LaBoeuf thing).

As Maya, the CIA agent who doggedly pur­sues bin Laden de­spite doubts and 6m-high brick walls, Chas­tain is the film’s heart.

She is sur­rounded by some ter­rific per­form­ers, in­clud­ing Aussie Ja­son Clarke, Jennifer Ehle and James Gan­dolfini, but she is the pro­tag­o­nist, one woman de­fy­ing the men, and she shows greater range and sub­tlety than she has dis­played be­fore.

Boal’s script is a cracker be­cause it presents its moral ques­tions vis­ually. He doesn’t re­sort to bloated so­lil­o­quies about the whys and where­fores of com­bat or tor­ture. You see it in Maya’s face or hear it in the film’s cruel pre­lude, a black screen ac­com­pa­nied by a col­lage of voices from Septem­ber 11.

Much like Haneke’s form in Amour, Bigelow and Boal know how to work cin­e­mat­i­cally. They don’t push or prod; they present their wares and let the au­di­ence do the work. It’s a great film.

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