Director: Kathryn Bigelow // Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler // Plot: An exhaustive account of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.
Review: Much has been made of Zero Dark Thirty’s stance on torture as a method of interrogation, with some publications accusing director Kathryn Bigelow of lacing a pro-torture agenda throughout her latest film – a finely sculpted account of the decade-long search for Osama bin Laden. An alarming thought, no doubt – but what is of more concern is the readiness with which some critics are willing to discount the films many achievements almost entirely as a result. Zero Dark Thirty is remarkable for its ability to keep one as enthralled watching a CIA boardroom meeting as they are to witness the true jewel in an already-encrusted crown: a breathless reenactment of bin Laden’s eventual capture in Pakistan that ensures the film’s final stretch is also its most rewarding.
Mark Boal’s screenplay expertly interpolates ten years worth of exposition, characters and frustrating near misses – the most important constant being Jessica Chastain’s Maya, a stoic CIA officer with an unmitigated dedication to the hunt. It’s a perfectly constructed performance from Chastain, who is clearly only too happy to partake in the boy’s club that is the world of cinematic espionage and military duty. Bigelow wisely dispenses with the temptation to saddle Maya with the thankless task of merely bringing some feminine charm to said proceedings, opting instead to filter Ellen Ripley through her own unique brand of docu-realism.
As for moral stances, Bigelow’s original mission was clearly to entertain – all else is simply conjecture. There is a definite undercurrent of disillusion with the validity of torture running throughout Zero Dark Thirty, but it’s never black and white and it really shouldn’t have to be, either. Despite being bound to providing an ending that should be a surprise to absolutely no one, perhaps Bigelow’s greatest masterstroke is ensuring a debate rages on long after the credits roll.