Zoë Kravitz Finally Steps Into the Spotlight

Despite her constant presence on the cusp of pop culture, Hollywood has only recently given the 'High Fidelity' star her due.

Zoë Kravitz Kravitz Big Little Lies
HBO

The Road Within (2014)

In contrast, Gren Wells’ The Road Within goes on an honest, grueling quest for self-actualization. Kravitz is Marie, a young woman recovering from an eating disorder who embarks on an impromptu (and illegal) field trip with two other patients after they break out of their behavioral facility.

Although one of three protagonists, Marie is frustratingly the least-developed among them. Where Kravitz’s co-stars Robert Sheehan and Dev Patel often get to externalize wells of pent-up anxiety, Marie is largely opaque. Outwardly, she maintains a casual and cool-headed vibe, preferring to keep her true feelings close to the chest.

As the film progresses, Marie’s detached persona caves under mounting pressure. Soon enough, her old coping mechanisms are no longer enough and she physically falls apart. The moment Marie gives in to the intensity of her fear of loneliness, Kravitz has a chance to genuinely crumble. By organically capturing the full impact of Marie’s painful realizations, the actress creates a meaningful, heartbreaking portrait of a young woman undergoing the constant, unpredictable journey of recovery.


Good Kill (2014)

The year 2014 introduced Kravitz to more-thrilling fare. She stars in Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill, a film detailing the operation of remotely controlled drones by American military personnel during the US War on Terror. Kravitz is one of two women in the film, depicting a junior recruit named Suarez piloting these unmanned aerial vehicles under Ethan Hawke.

The beginning of Good Kill sees Suarez bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in her first foray of war, going toe-to-toe with fellow soldiers. Although fully capable of keeping a cool head on her shoulders amid a deluge of hypermasculinity, the ferocity of every mission finally eats away at her. Suarez becomes one of the more soulful characters of the film, which Kravitz undertakes with powerful finesse.

Lamentably, Suarez isn’t written with enough depth. Kravitz does a lot of the drudgery to elevate the film’s taxing script, injecting pockets of empathy into clinical and often heartless proceedings. There is a muted rage underpinning her poise, giving viewers an accessible avenue into the heavy-handed moralistic arguments posed by the movie.


The Divergent Series (2014-2016)

Kravitz subsequently moved on to secure another large franchise: Divergent. The three-film series follows in the footsteps of other successful young-adult adaptations such as Twilight and The Hunger Games. Divergent and its sequels, Insurgent and Allegiant, go so far as to lean into the dystopian tendencies of the latter, visualizing a futuristic Chicago that’s divided into factions based on five human virtues.

Soon enough, a Divergent girl named Tris – who represents every trait to its fullest capacity – comes of age. The pillars of society within this cinematic universe are then revealed to comprise nothing but an authoritarian façade meant to ensure that citizens toe the line.

Sadly, Tris is not who Kravitz plays in these films. Instead, she is relegated to the supporting role of Christina, who never really goes anywhere across the three movies. Similar to how X-Men put Kravitz partially in the spotlight, the Divergent series merely lets her dabble in heroic rebellion. Sure, Christina feels the brunt of losing comrades and first loves. She expresses admirable loyalty and courage at Tris’ side in the face of numerous adversaries. But this occurs to a minute degree at best. The audience simply doesn’t spend enough time with Christina for Kravitz to flesh these plot points out.


Dope (2015)

Frustratingly, this pattern of keeping Kravitz in the margins of narratives follows her work for a while. But thankfully, Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope legitimately tells an infectious, groundbreaking story that Kravitz helps to enhance. Superficially, the movie thematically recalls Beware the Gonzo. The film seeks to dismantle stereotypical portrayals of marginalized communities with a primarily African-American cast.

Kravitz is Nakia, one of Dope’s more sensible elements and a love interest character who is more readily developed than Beware the Gonzo‘s Evie. Much like the film’s lead, Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Nakia expresses a palpable desire to escape the confines of their little high-crime neighborhood in Inglewood, California.

The fact that we first meet Nakia while she studies to get her GED is a vital clue about who she really is outside of her sweet budding romance with Malcolm. She rejects pigeonholes outright and wishes to take charge of her destiny. Kravitz keeps Nakia lowkey and ultra-naturalistic, and this approach is softly captivating and indelible in its own right.


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

George Miller’s transportive feminist survival epic Mad Max: Fury Road is a labor of love. Ambitious and impeccably crafted, it might even be the best summer movie ever made. Kravitz plays a minor role in the film, but she is a vital piece of the puzzle.

As part of a large ensemble of visually striking characters, Kravitz fills the shoes of Toast the Knowing. She is one of the disillusioned Five Wives who – with the help of the unflinching leading lady Imperator Furiosa – break free from the unrelenting tyranny of their misogynistic captor, Immortan Joe.

The unequivocal empowerment of Fury Road goes beyond Kravitz’s badass moniker. Through a toughened veneer – hardened eyes and minimal, perfunctory dialogue – Toast represents sheer endurance as one of the many caged women under Joe’s terrifying tyrannical regime. Kravitz lets disenchantment bathe her quietly fierce performance, making Toast’s journey highly symbolic of the film’s fundamental feminist message.


Too Legit (2016)

Kravitz counters her more strenuous mainstream fare with a smattering of experimental jaunts. She has a tiny part in Adam Green’s Aladdin, a Kickstarter-funded technologically minded film that takes the word “surrealist” and runs even further with it. Kravitz also leads Frankie Shaw’s sardonic fifteen-minute short film Too Legit, as a young woman whose life falls apart after she is raped.

Too Legit posits valid questions about the unfair treatment of women suffering in the aftermath of an assault and Kravitz’s performance is tearful and emphatic, which anchors the film poignantly. It is arguably the most straightforward and emotionally charged one in the short, but undoubtedly its final saving grace. Kravitz’s calibrated fragility is far more potent than any satire in Shaw’s screenplay. Her open-hearted vulnerability accentuates the infuriating and incisive nature of the story.

 

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(Columnist / Contributor)

Often chugging tea and thinking about horror movies. Particularly loves writing stuff and things with a feminist bent here at Film School Rejects.