Kathryn Bigelow’s new film Zero Dark Thirty has received a lot of pro-torture criticism in the aftermath of its release last Friday, but I don’t necessarily see that the movie either endorses or rejects torture: it’s just simply there as a by-product of the post 9/11 world.
The movie begins with a blank screen and some chilling telephone recordings of the victims entrapped in the World Trade Tower building. Fast forward to a scene where a suspected terrorist is being interrogate by a C.I.A. operative (Jason Clark) using the now “infamous” water boarding technique. (I guess the question about whether we torture or not is now off the table, considering this information was supplied by eyewitnesses.) The viewer may find the torture arena a bit disconcerting, but one can certainly understand the necessity of interrogators doing whatever is at their disposal to extract information to apprehend a mass killer. The problem with the whole situation is that torture does not work (personally, if someone was torturing me, I would tell anybody anything). It is important to note that the captive who was being tortured only gave up information after being taken out to a good lunch. But that is neither here nor there: Zero Dark Thirty will have you on the edge of seat during for most of the movie.
The first two hours of the film is a study of the different agencies and operatives that were involved in the ten-year hunt to get Osama Bin Laden. The key player in the investigation is a C.I.A agent by the name of Maya (Jessica Chastain) who develops an obsession with the hunt for Bin Laden (the character that Clair Danes plays on Showtime’s Homeland is modeled after Maya). Maya’s focus on Bin Laden is so extreme that it appears she has no life other that the compulsion to apprehend the mass killer. The obsession is so strong that it is shown, not only as strength, but also a trait that may jeopardize the mission. The buildup to the finale is a methodical documentary-style report of the many people who put their lives on the line; but the film is never slow and builds urgency as the actual mission take place.
We know how the movie ends, but that does little to take away from the dramatics. I highly recommend it. (Running time, 2 hours and 37 minutes.)
My Rating: 5 of 5 Water Boards.