Director Kathyrn Bigelow’s chilling thriller ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is a fictionalized account of the events leading to the CIA’s hunt for Osama bin Laden. There has been tremendous controversy with the realistic torture scenes in the movie. All I have to say about it is that Bigelow doesn’t take a stand for or against it. She puts it out there and it is up to the audience to digest it. It adds intensity to the first act. Bigelow knows how to ratchet up suspense. She teams up once again with screenwriter Mark Boal. The duo swept the Oscars in 2010 for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay with the Iraq war film, ‘The Hurt Locker.’
‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is not for everybody. If you don’t like procedural detective-style movies then this film is probably not for you. It is not an action-packed espionage movie like James Bond. There are no spy gadgets, Walther PPK handguns, Aston Martins or martinis shaken not stirred. This is a nuts-and-bolts spy film. It is probably as close as a film will get to how the CIA actually operates without compromising classified information. This is Bigelow’s gift as a filmmaker. There are static scenes that in another director’s hands would be flat out boring. She keeps the story suspenseful. Boal did his homework too. This is a well-researched script that condenses a 10-year manhunt and presents it authoritatively.
The opening sequence is brilliant. The screen is pitch black. All the audience hears is a recording from a 911 operator reassuring a caller trapped inside the Twin Towers that help is on the way. It’s chilling. The film quickly moves forward to a harsh interrogation scene. It’s uncomfortable to watch but it introduces us to the key CIA agents Dan (Jason Clarke) and Maya (Jessica Chastain). Dan is showing the newly arrived Maya how they interrogate a known al-Quaeda terrorist. The torture is graphic. When the prisoner looks at Maya demurely watching, he thinks the cute redhead might help him. Boy is he wrong. Maya is just as tough as the men she works with in the field.
Praise must be given to the stellar cast led by the talented Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life, The Debt, The Help). If you didn’t know about her acting chops last year, this film is certain to make her a household name. Her performance as Maya, a newly minted agent is not easy. She balances a certain amount of cold-hearted toughness with a touch of pity. This is not a typical hero. Not only is she a tough-as-nails female agent in a man’s world, we find out nothing about what makes Maya tick. There is no backstory, no love interest, no hobbies, and no real personality. She is obsessed with one mission and that is to find Osama bin Laden. She is depicting one of the strongest female characters you will ever experience in a film.
Besides Jessica Chastain’s performance, Jason Clarke is haunting as CIA field agent Dan. When he manhandles a suspect, at first Maya looks a bit stunned at his harsh interrogation tactics. At one point, you wonder if Maya wants to scream out to stop the madness. Soon enough, she is fetching the bucket for waterboarding. As mentioned earlier, it isn’t easy watching the torture sequence but Bigelow masterfully leaves us to deal with the morality of what we’re witnessing. She makes the audience feel like we are a CIA agent in that torture chamber too. That is the power of this film.
Just when you’re ready to look at your watch, the climax is spectacular. The Navy Seals (including Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt) are a nice contrast to the cold and calculated CIA agents. They actually bring a human side to their characters joking around before the most important mission of their military careers. The raid of bin Laden’s compound is intensified with the use of night-vision goggles. As they make their way to the top floor, you never know what might be lurking around the corner. It’s captivating.
‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is now available on DVD and Blu-ray at http://www.zerodarkthirty-movie.com/.