"Zero Dark Thirty" leaves us thinking


Courtesy of IMBD.com
Courtesy of IMBD.com

Director Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” a follow-up to her 2009 Best Picture, “The Hurt Locker,” is a dramatic retelling of the recent manhunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Bigelow once again collaborated with Mark Boal, a former field journalist who also wrote “The Hurt Locker,” and though the stories are quite different, the pair have a very strong combined signature which permeates both finished works.

The film opens with a blank screen over which we hear the familiar, frantic 9/11 telephone calls from the World Trade Center. This scene starts the movie on a nationally emotional note and sets the tone for the remainder of the film.

Two years later, a young CIA agent named Maya (Jessica Chastain) arrives in Pakistan to join its US embassy team. She is initiated by an older agent (Jason Clarke) into the torture methods utilized to make detainees talk. Though apparently unsettled at first, Maya quickly proves that her youth and sex will not be a deterrent in her ruthless search for bin Laden. Following a series of seemingly irrelevant and unconnected clues, Maya begins to puzzle out bin Laden’s location, despite constant dismissal from superiors and co-workers, passing years and deaths of friends. Nothing interferes with her goal, as the audience ultimately knows it won’t. I mean, we all remember that bin Laden’s dead, so this movie must get around to killing him at some point, right?

Eventually, it does. The actual operation is shot in the green glow of night-vision. The Navy Seals doing the job are not as young or fit as we would expect, but once in action, they’re nothing if not effective. Maya awaits their return to base, where she has the honor of identifying bin Laden’s remains.

“Zero Dark Thirty” has the overall vibe of a semi-documentary which is interesting because the Obama administration denies use of information gleaned from torture as a method of locating bin Laden, but that anxiety runs deep through the beginning of the film. It’s a film without a lot of dialogue, but there are tense stretches that weigh just as heavily as Boal’s actual words.

Most significantly though, this movie does not work without Chastain, or an actress of equal caliber, in the role of Maya. The Oscar buzz around her in the role has been unrelenting and well-deserved. She is the action of the film and her nuanced and compelling performance carries the rest, including many of the already strong supporting cast. Unlike “The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty” does not have a short time frame to work within; it stretches the course of 11 years. That movie also had a much more relatable leading man, the hardened veteran/adrenaline junkie portrayed by Jeremy Renner. Maya is a character much more alien, an obsessed woman without any semblance of a personal life. As the film goes on and the people she knows either leave for better things or die, that obsession only grows.

Student reception, like that of popular and critical audiences, has been largely positive.

“[It’s] a unique film about an event that captured the national imagination. I don’t think it rivals ‘The Hurt Locker’ for epitome of Iraq war movies, however, it does a lot to humanize and immortalize the history of the event,” Kate Wilsterman ’14 said.

“[The film is] a suspenseful movie that left me thinking for days afterwards, a sign of a good movie. It was particularly tense knowing that this movie was a depiction of real events. I would recommend ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ to everyone,” Emily Conners ’14 said.

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