The expanded release of “Zero Dark Thirty” on Jan. 11 follows the announcement of this year’s Academy Award nominations and the shocking lack of a nomination for Kathryn Bigelow’s direction. Receiving similar critical success as her Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty” is a major contender for the Best Picture Award but will still be engrossing for general audiences.
Following the terrorist events on 9/11, “Zero Dark Thirty” portrays the U.S. government’s attempts to track al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Young and inexperienced, Maya (Jessica Chastain) is immediately introduced to the world of terrorist hunting by interrogating tortured detainees and slowly picks up the trends of the post-9/11 al-Qaeda. Years into the search, Maya becomes one of the top operatives in the quest for bin Laden and leads the plan to attack his sanctuary.
Kathryn Bigelow knows how to enthrall an audience by appealing to our need for intensity and thrills while making her characters relatable. The opening sets the tone as the audience faces a black screen but hears emotional phone calls, allowing for us to remember why we were so eager for revenge. “The Hurt Locker” was about soldiers whereas “Zero Dark Thirty” is about those behind the scenes, mainly the C.I.A., and Bigelow (with writer Mark Boal) manages to make this different perspective just as harrowing as the dangers of soldier life depicted previously.
What is so lovely about Jessica Chastain’s performances is how intensely she conveys what obsession is. Throughout the entire film, she looks frail and strained. Her whole life and being are the search for bin Laden.
The torture depicted in the film has been stirring quite a controversy, but this is not a film that glorifies it or even claims its success. Maya is clearly uncomfortable and her interrogation partner Dan (Jason Clarke) finds that he’s losing his humanity and needs to reconnect to the real world. The torture will be too difficult for some to handle, though the portrayal shows more of post-torture results than actual violence. Bigelow clearly made a decision to attempt to make it as bearable for audiences as possible.
This year’s films are very similar in quality and entertainment value and, having seen eight of the nine Best Picture nominees (only missing “Amour”), I think “Zero Dark Thirty” is the most deserving of the nominees, though only marginally.
Rating for “Zero Dark Thirty:” A
For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.
"Zero Dark Thirty" is playing at almost every theater in Columbus, including Gateway and Drexel, and is likely to stick around for awhile as an Oscar nominee. For showtimes, click here.