Bringing us three films in one Zero Dark Thirty is the film that should win Best Film at the Oscars, but won’t because it’s a bit political and that.
Zero Dark Thirty is Kathryn Bigelow’s first movie since her Oscar-winning effort with The Hurt Locker, continuing her military theme this new picture explores America’s role in Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. What Bigelow brings us is not just an in-depth and frank discussion of the operation but three movies packaged as one.
Feeling almost like a three-part drama pulled together the film shows us, through the eyes of a CIA operative played by Jessica Chastain, initially America’s role in the torture of captives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, then the Washington-based exposure of the necessary evidence to locate OBL and the battle to get clearance to go ahead with the assault and then finally the attack on Bin Laden’s compound and his subsequent execution by US Navy Seals.
The use of Chastain’s Maya as a central character is shrewd as through her Bigelow is able to control and guide the audience, at first appalled by the torture and then complicit in it, elated by the proof discovered as to the location of their target, frustrated by the glacial decision-making processes of central government and then intricately involved but at arm’s length for the final assault, Mia is as the audience thrown through these emotions.
Jessica Chastain is more than capable of carrying the narrative and her performance is complex and nuanced to allow the torrent of emotions to develop throughout the picture. Although Chastain is exemplary this is by no means a one performance film, Jennifer Ehle as a fellow agent is staggeringly honest in her portrayal; Mark Strong, James Gandolfini and Kyle Chandler represent the endless bureaucracy of Washington while Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton lead the Navy Seals with a blend of focus and humour that defines the military roles in the later part of the picture.
Special mention is reserved for Jason Clarke who plays Dan, a CIA agent who seems to revel in the torture of captives during the opening act of the movie and then makes a C-change in the second act when both he and Chastain’s Maya are returned to Washington. Clarke is able to transform himself almost completely from the aggressive yet controlled torturer to a suited Washington paper-pusher with an almost unnerving simplicity.
Bigelow’s direction is crisp and clear, her ability to show the emotion behind the story is a rare talent and by surrounding herself with such a capable cast she is able to develop a story slowly over the duration rather than relying on masses of exposition. Her commitment to telling a story truthfully may not align with American sensibilities but the underlying message of this story is that torture does not produce results. Zero Dark Thirty is a frank and open look at the War on Terror from several angles and although these angles are all American they are by no means all American-friendly.
Striking action sequences, diplomatic drama and brutal torture are the building blocks of Zero Dark Thirty but none of these detract from what is, in essence, the story of one woman’s commitment to a single goal at the detriment of the rest of her life; the final shots show Maya contented at having completed the mission but at what cost to herself, her friends and her own sensibilities.
- ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Oscar Odds Fade… (bloomberg.com)
- Oscar Countdown: Kathryn Bigelow’s Art of Darkness (time.com)
- Some tortured thoughts on Zero Dark Thirty (lancemannion.typepad.com)
- Group urges Hollywood to use Oscars to help free man who helped find Usama Bin Laden (foxnews.com)
- | Who, what, why, when, where? Zero Dark Thirty + the mysterious killing of OBL! (warcrimesinternational.wordpress.com)