Thursday, February 21, 2013

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

Jessica Chastain received her second Oscar nomination for playing Maya, the CIA agent who was able to track down Osama Bin Laden in Kathryn Bigelow's stunning movie, Zero Dark Thirty. At the beginning of Oscar season, it seemed that Jessica had a legitimate shot at taking home her first Oscar and it seemed so logical: her career's really hit its peak (although I can see her top even this). And then that absurd, disgusting hate campaign about torture came up, probably smashing Jessica's Oscar dreams for a while. Never mind, she'll be back very soon and she'll go for the gold then! I'm thinking she'll be third eventually or if Naomi's buzz is indeed that strong then she's only fourth (I highly doubt it).

Zero Dark Thirty is quite simply a masterpiece by Kathryn Bigelow who really did her absolute best with this film and who's really unworthy of the tons of criticism thrown at her. And that perfectly shows the hypocrisy of people: when she was about to make history at the Oscars, she was basically considered Queen Empress of the world and when controversy hit her latest movie, all these loudly cheering fans stayed silent and let the hate campaign cost her a more than deserved Best Director nomination (which she should have won in a heartbeat). Anyway, I thought this film was much better than The Hurt Locker, since it was able to be just as effective without the occasional use of theatrical elements that weren't actually needed. This picture was more toned down, more mature and even more shocking and disturbing. It could win any of those five nominations without a single complaint of mine. Unfortunately, I feel it's destined to go home empty-handed.

This unfortunately applies to Jessica Chastain, whom I really wanted to see her win the Oscar and it's not only about her performance necessarily: I feel that she would benefit from the win the most and nobody would really complain about it (I'm worried now that cinephiles and the JenLaw fan base will have some serious comment battles under the Best Actress youtube videos and in blog posts after this Sunday and neither of them deserves the shit that either of them will most definitely get).

But as they say, good work is its own reward and that cannot be more true than in the case of Jessica Chastain who keeps having amazing years: last year it was The Tree of Life, Take Shelter and of course, The Help (as well as many others) and now she's back with Lawless, Mama and her latest masterpiece of acting, Zero Dark Thirty. Jessica Chastain instantly comes off as a fantastic, beautiful actress who can blow your socks off in ten seconds. The only thing that really bothers me is that every time there's a new discovery who shows exceptional range, people are already screaming 'we have the new Meryl Streep'.

And I'm saying this because we already know by now that she's one of the most unique actresses ever to grace the silver screen and she offers us yet another great performance to prove that. She plays Maya, a CIA expert whose only goal to achieve is finding Bin Laden. She basically sacrifices her happiness, time and safety, while also probably jeopardising her job. On many occasions, Jessica describes Maya as a woman who lets her expert work speak for itself while not using her womanhood in any way. Many are praising this aspect of her performance while bashing Jennifer Lawrence as a fuckable young actress who's only good for men to ease themselves on her pictures, but let me just treat them separately. I'm saying Jessica just gives one hell of a performance as a strong female character, something we don't see as often on the big screen as we probably should be.

That being said, Jessica managed to also overcome the obstacle of being compared to Claire Danes' powerhouse acting in Homeland, which basically has a monopoly on being the complex, complicated character of a CIA agent, but even I forgot about Claire while watching Jessica here (mind you Jessica, she still cannot be topped in my book :P). But really these two performances really are like apples and oranges. What they share is a masterful skill at developing an intriguing, tough character and while Maya doesn't have a showy mental illness to let Jessica affect even more in the part, we can catch little moments of her vulnerability as well and she can become just as manic and obsessed as Carrie Mathison. Getting to witness all the ups and downs of this very subtly drawn character is so fulfilling in itself that I probably wouldn't even ask for me. Jessica had a difficult job in making this character stand out from the dangerously powerful film, but she managed to add something of her own to the overall effect.

However, I'd say, all these aspects didn't matter to me at all after Bin Laden is killed (SPOILER ALERT!). Maya has to identify his body and that scene for me was just as chilling and hard-hitting as Jennifer Lawrence breaking down in front of the movie theater or Emmanuelle Riva's character slowly dying in front of my eyes. In fact, I have to say, Jessica gave us the best acted scene of 2012. I had the same feelings that I had with Jane Fonda in a very similar scene from Julia. Both of them were able to communicating such a wide range emotions without any dialogue. And this is probably one of the most rewarding things about this performance: we see an actress, at the top of her game, with self-confidence and luminous presence who uplifts an already strong and thought-provoking material. Although last year marked the "official" breakthrough of Jessica Chastain, this movie cemented her status as one of the world's top actresses, even if she'll have many roles that will be even more acclaimed and celebrated than this one. And if we're talking about the prospects of success, even I'd say that we might have our new Meryl Streep.

Overall, I'm just astonished by the beautifully detailed, layered and understated performance of Jessica Chastain. She develops a characters from little bits of scenes and moments and affects without much dialogue, screen time or showy Oscar scenes. She has a lion share in making Zero Dark Thirty the shocking and stunning masterpiece that it really is. Her two scenes after the infamous mission is completed deserve a perfect rating on their own and the rest of the film only makes me love her as well so I'm very calm about giving her a
 
What do you think?

10 comments:

Bethany said...

I could not agree more with every single word you wrote

Such a travesty Jessica won't win on Sunday, but at the same time I'm confident she'll have at least another 10 Oscar nominations in her career and is certain to win several of them.

Brilliant article and brilliant actress!

Carlos (The Final Oscar) said...

Too sad that black propaganda for the film damaged her solid chances. It could have been a tight three-way race.

Now it's just JenLaw as the frontrunner, Riva as the strongest spoiler, Chastain as the spoiler longshot and Watts as the "longer" longshot =))))

A chilling performance! She haunts the movie even if she's off-screen. Mygosh, will Chastain ever run out of great performances =))))

joe burns said...

I don't agree: I really like her in parts, but I think her role is too underdeveloped to shine. I just think the script wastes oppurtunities to really pull off something special. She could have been brilliant and was trying a 100 %, but it just didn't work for me.

And don't take this personally, but I feel your review shows that Maya is not a very richly developed character. It doesn't analyze the performance by looking at the character like your other reviews because she doesn't get a great arc. it's not that I think it's badly written, it's just I feel a review like your others isn't possible for her because she hardly gets enough development.

Nic said...

I'm sorry, I mean I like her in this role but I didn't exactly love her as much as you did... And that stupidly pointless controversy is going to hurt her chances anyway
Yes, I think she did a great job and pretty much nailed every aspect of this character. In fact, I think she gave more depth to the character than was required. But the character just wasn't really interesting to me throughout the whole film. The ending was brilliant though.
That being said, I love her as an actress and a person! She's quite a chameleon, isn't she? She really elevates mediocre material to another level (The Tree Of Life, Mama). I would only say that she's the next Meryl Streep in terms of sweeping nominations cause I don't find her acting style as calculated as Meryl. I really look forward to her other projects
Btw, why do you use Meryls to rate performances? Shouldn't you be using Jane Fonda(s) instead? :) Haha

dinasztie said...

Joe: Your criticism has merit. And as you see in my rating, I agree with you.

Nic: We'll se about those Janes. ;)

Louis Morgan said...

My favorite of the nominees and your review explained why quite nicely. I like how she does keep Maya quite a mystery yet still gives a compelling characterization.

Michael555 said...

I agree with Joe. She gives a good performance with what she has but I don't think she deserves a win.

mrripley said...

I agree a limited character but she made maya what she is,although i dislike her shouty oscar type scene it feels out of character,maya would never loose her temper,maybe thats me.

Derek Bowman said...

I preferred both The Hurt Locker and Jeremy Renner to ZDT and JChas. This perf makes such a strong first impact, but the more I think about it the less I like this perf. She's rages against her bosses and is forceful, but ultimately never seems like much of a character. The script needed to spend more time giving her a personality as opposed to simply trying to make her a "badass". Chastain tries to humanize her but isn't given enough to work with. She has some great line readings, though.

Anonymous said...

You are so right! That's what I thought. Jessica deserves it the most and could do most with it. And there is a war going on in the post section in youtube!!!!!
You are god.