Kathryn Bigelow Movies Ranked

5. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Continuing Kathryn Bigelow’s work with America in the Middle East post 9/11, Zero Dark Thirty is in many ways a worthy successor to The Hurt Locker. Here we have Jessica Chastain, a fictional FBI agent, new to a very singular and specialised unit with one goal; to take down Osama Bin Laden. The film follows the undercover work taken by the agents in the field and back in Washington that eventually led to the death of the Taliban leader, and as usual Bigelow shines.

A less overtly stylised film than The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty succeeds by giving us Chastain’s Maya Harris, who has just the right amount of aggression and humanity mixed in her to make a worthy protagonist. Watching her straddle the two worlds, both out in the field and back in the USA battling it out with the corporate bosses who make the overhead decisions, is what we root for, and Chastain was rightly nominated for the Oscar for her performance. With this, Bigelow beautifully gives both scale to the scenario, and brings it down in those moments of humanity that are given.

The issue of torture has rightly been raised with the film, however, and the role in the film that violent torture plays in getting required information is a matter of contention on both sides of the argument. Once more, there are moments when depictions of the people of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and other nations, are questionable at best. Still, in terms of sheer craft, the film displays Bigelow’s ability to helm a big film and pull everything off nicely, cases of political allegiance aside.

4. Detroit (2017)

Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is a dramatic retelling of the Algiers Motel incident in Detroit, 1961, where race riots and a majority white police force provide the backdrop for three black men dead at the motel, seven more wounded, along with two white women, and all officers found not guilty. With a cast including Will Poulter, Anthony Mackie, and John Boyega, it is a part of a group of blockbusters looking at 60s American miscarriages of justice, with the Oscar-nominated The Trial of the Chicago 7 to come out a few years later being an example of another.

Returning to the documentary-style handheld filmmaking that had served her well in The Hurt Locker, Bigelow’s dramatization keeps the tension high throughout. The main cast are great, with Poulter shining as corrupt cop Philip Krauss, a sneering, despicable presence in every frame. The main section of the film, a good 40-minute sequence inside the Algiers Motel itself, is a masterful piece of filmmaking, never moving away and keeping the whole thing as real-time as possible. We are trapped with the innocents, pinned down against a wall like those the police are abusing.

Some have complained that the film is too preoccupied with presenting events and not people, and perhaps for one or two characters this might be the case. Boyega’s Melvin Dismukes certainly is an audience’s pair of eyes first and a character second. Despite this, the film is incredibly made, and a rightly uncomfortable watch, with Bigelow’s skills honed over thirty-five years behind the camera brought to bear.

3. Point Break (1991)

The film where Kathryn Bigelow really made her mark sees Keanu Reeves (on the cusp of transitioning into a major star) play an FBI agent tasked with tracking down a bank heist group called the Ex-Presidents. Believing them to be surfers, Keanu goes undercover to befriend Patrick Swayze’s surf leader Bodhi. Then things get complicated when Reeves’s Johnny Utah gets involved with one of the surfers, and his identity is uncovered.

Point Break is now a bona-fide cult classic. It’s big and loud and brash and completely and utterly American. There are scenes which border on stupid, and yet at the same time it grounds itself in a simple opposition of ways in which to see the world. Swayze’s character simply has a different view of life, a transcendentalism that allows him to break laws in order to achieve his true self with the stolen goods. Reeves’s acting at this point is sometimes great, other times overdone to the point of farce. It is this fine line that the film treads, somehow with the light-heartedness that makes one feel the surfer lifestyle in one’s bones. It’s not the serious thriller of Cold Steel, nor is it the intense films which would come later. It is Bigelow and producing partner James Cameron simply having fun, and when you sit back and embrace it, it’s a damn good time.

Recommended for you: Where to Start with Keanu Reeves

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Leave a Comment