Cert: 15 Runtime: 157 mins Director: Kathryn Bigelow Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton and James Gandolfini
I’m the motherfucker who found this place!
So yeah Kathryn Bigelow is back to scare the big directors of Hollywood with her latest film. It’s been four years since Hurt Locker swooped the Oscars and kicked James Cameron’s Avatar out of the water. So Bigelow is back with another American war on terror film. So what is Zero Dark Thirty? Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a CIA operative whose first experience is in the interrogation of prisoners following the Al Qaeda attacks against the U.S. on the 11th September 2001. She is a reluctant participant in extreme duress applied to the detainees, but believes that the truth may only be obtained through such tactics. For several years, she is single-minded in her pursuit of leads to uncover the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama Bin Laden. Finally, in 2011, it appears that her work will pay off, and a U.S. Navy SEAL team is sent to kill or capture Bin Laden. But only Maya is confident Bin Laden is where she says he is. Zero Dark Thirty crackles with tension through its entire runtime, but the proceedings are taken to another level early on when Maya’s world is literally shaken by a hotel bombing that comes close to taking her out. From that point on, it truly feels like danger is around every corner and any step out the front door could be the last for any one of these characters on the field. Boal’s script does well to balance the field efforts of operatives like Maya and Jason Clarke’s Dan with the kind of behind-the-scenes efforts of suits like Kyle Chandler’s Joseph Bradley and Mark Strong’s George. Whether Maya likes it or not, each of these elements are essential in the ultimate success of her goal, all of which Bigelow and Boal balance out evenly without any kind of jarring shift from one setting to another.
Zero Dark Thirty has caught some heat for its depiction of torture, and while I can understand why some might not respond positively to it, I felt that Boal and Bigelow handled it in the most honest and respectful way possible. They don’t gloss over any of the brutal tactics that have been used to attain information during this war, but I never felt as if they glorified or condoned it either. Quite the opposite in fact, the torture scenes are so graphic and real they had my stomach churning and whether they get results or not, I think the morality of it all is left open to the minds of the audience. Whether the ends justify the means or not isn’t something that I felt they directly stated or even implied here, but rather they presented the truth of the matter and let the audience make up their minds. There’s a political current running through the background of Zero Dark Thirty that guides the action as the tide of the nation and the presidency itself switches seats during the middle of this extensive manhunt, but it never overpowers the meat of the story and that is the hunt itself, which culminates in a final act that practically had me sweating in my seat. There are plenty of white-knuckle sequences that had me holding my breath throughout the film, but that final raid on the compound holding bin Laden is without a doubt the most heart-stopping sequence I have experienced this year, and perhaps in the past several years. The intensity of the picture reaches its natural peak here and Bigelow orchestrates it with the kind of authenticity and lack of dramatic exaggeration that befits her entire effort on the picture at large. Zero Dark Thirty is a sensationally well-crafted picture in every sense of the world, one that encompasses precise writing, directing and a superb ensemble of actors to detail a decade-long manhunt while also effectively handling the weighty moral and ethical themes that it entails.