“Zero Dark Thirty” arrives in theatres today (Friday, January 11, 2013) with the wind at is back and mired in controversy. The controversy came over the last few weeks as a limited release and advanced screenings had various lawmakers in Washington DC decrying the movie’s depictions of interrogations. The wind came yesterday when the movie received five Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress for Jessica Chastain and Best Original Screenplay for Mark Boal. In all honesty, it should have also seen a nomination for its director Kathryn Bigelow because she manages to pull of one of the rare feats in movie making. Everyone walking into the theatre knows how the movie is going to end, yet it is still very suspenseful and keeps you glued to the screen.
“Zero Dark Thirty” covers the ten year period between the 9/11 attacks and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. The story follows CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she single-mindedly hunts for Bin Laden and those responsible for the attacks. We follow her from her early days as a new agent right up until Seal Team Six invades Bin Laden’s compound and kills him and it is a fascinating journey.
The story of Maya’s journey unfolds like the layers of artichoke being peeled back. Maya gathers intelligence, flies all over the world to follow up on clues and works with other operatives to extract information from detainees. The first time she witnesses an interrogation you can see the horror on her face. Part of the brilliance of the movie is that we learn about those doing the interrogations. Dan (Jason Clarke) is very good at his job interrogating detainees, but he is haunted by what he does and conflicted. He knows he is helping his country, but he doesn’t know if he is doing it the right way. As the years pass and Maya becomes a more seasoned agent she zeros in on Bin Laden, but the investigation has gone on for so long that she starts having trouble convincing others that she knows where he is and how to get to him. It becomes a case of her doing her job well, but having to convince others to trust her and believe in her.
Bigelow and Boal teamed up on Bigelow’s last movie, the brilliant “Hurt Locker” and they have struck gold again here. These two know how to craft a taut, suspenseful movie that gives you a lot of information, takes you to many locations, and yet is still not confusing. Chastain anchors a talented cast and it is her determination and focus that takes the audience by the hand and leads them into places they might not have wanted to go alone. Bigelow takes a large scale event (the 9/11 attack) which was followed by even bigger global events (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the hunting of Bin Laden) and brings it all down to a personal level so you can connect with it emotionally. The affect is a haunting, superb film that at times might be hard to watch, but never ceases to be anything short of extraordinary.
I can’t say how accurate the interrogation scenes are or if the controversy is deserved or not, but I can say if you strip away that aspect of things and surrender yourself to the movie, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal take you on a ten year journey through hell and you will thank them for it.
“Zero Dark Thirty” opens nationwide today.