Twelve years after 9/11 and less than two years after the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal bring us this smashing thriller. In my opinion it’s better than their previous collaboration, the Oscar winning The Hurt Locker.
From its disturbing, minimalist prologue in total darkness to the last frame of its enigmatic, driven protagonist Maya (played by Jessica Chaistin), Zero Dark Thirty grips you and remains relentlessly watchable. Maya is a young CIA operative stationed in Pakistan working on intelligence to help locate Osama Bin Laden. First squeamish when exposed to torture of Al Queda detainees, Maya eventually dismisses her reservations about torture as she becomes obsessed by her desire to find the mastermind behind the 9/11 attack.
Screenwriter Mark Boal is a former investigative reporter and has a great eye and ear for authenticity; despite this the factuality of Zero Dark Thirty is being debated. However there seems to be more people who think that it sticks to the facts than don’t. Of course the CIA will disagree with this. The shrouded government agency couldn’t bear the thought of the smallest secret leaking out from Langley Virginia. I could care less, it isn’t a documentary. It feels real and looks real, especially the tense recreation of the storming of Bin Laden’s compound.
This is Jessica Chastain's best performance to date and demonstrates her versatility as it is completely different than her Oscar nominated role in The Help. Her Maya seems purposely underwritten with almost no reference to back story or inner and personal life. Therefore her character is defined by her actions, and her actions all serve her ultimate goal, to find Bin Laden. If Maya was a male protagonist no one would care that she had no other interest than to kill America’s #1 enemy. The very fact that Bigelow, Boal and Chastain's characterization of Maya barely makes reference to her gender is the most feminist thing about the film. It is feminist because it isn’t feminist.
There is a ridiculous criticism of the film regarding its depiction of torture. Bigelow has been personally attacked, with many people, including Hollywood celebrities saying that she is condoning torture, by having torture scenes in the films. How silly is this? Does a film that depicts a serial killer, condone killing? I wonder if this film were directed by a male, if he would be under as much scrutiny for showing scenes of torture?
I want everyone to leave Kathryn Bigelow alone. This is a nearly flawless, intelligent thriller that is confidently and expertly directed. Every scene is masterfully realized and frame by frame it is tight and taught. It reminds me of the best of Hitchcock, nothing can be edited out. And like a Hitchcock film, Zero Dark Thirty has tremendous resonance.
Director: Kathryn Bigelow