Film review

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty is a companion piece to The Hurt Locker, the previous film from director Kathryn Bigelow and scriptwriter Mark Boal. But while The Hurt Locker viewed the War on Terror in microcosm, focussing on a three-man bomb disposal team during the Iraq war, Zero Dark Thirty tells a bigger story: the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, unfolding across a ten-year period in CIA Black Ops sites, military bases and embassies in destinations as far a field as Pakistan, Gdansk, London and the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

In other filmmakers hands, you could see this as being a gung-ho right wing revenge flick, or perhaps a Bourne-style action film. Imagine the havoc Oliver Stone could have caused with this material. To their credit, Bigelow and Boal adopt a journalistic approach. For much of its three hour running time, Zero Dark Thirty moves like a police procedural: it is rigorous, pared-back and analytical.

Although based on fact, we see the events in Zero Dark Thirty through the eyes of a fictional character, Maya, played by Jessica Chastain – “just off the plane from Washington” and forced to watch a suspect endure waterboarding, sleep and food depravation and 24 hours of constant heavy metal. At first a wispy, subdued figure, Maya becomes defined by her actions: “I’m gonna smoke everybody involved in this op,” she swears after a suicide bombing. “And then I’m gonna kill Bin Laden.”

Her steely reserve perhaps contains some of Bigelow’s own –another woman making it in a notoriously blokeish environment. Maya feels like another of the director’s great female leads, like Jamie Lee Curtis in Blue Steel or Angela Bassett in Strange Days. Operating out of the US Embassy in Islamabad, Maya is grouped with fellow professionals. Events move to Langley, Virgina and the film shifts gear, becoming a wordy political drama about risk assessment and percentages. The final, intense 50 minutes is the Special Forces raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, which is another thing altogether.
Michael Bonner

Rating: 9 / 10

Opens January 25 // Certificate 15


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