Ever since Osama Bin Laden was killed on 2nd May 2011, I knew that there was going to be a major film made about the event. What I didn’t expect though is that the film would be a thoughtful, introspective piece about the whole nature of the American intelligence operation to find Bin Laden that ultimately shows how hollow the death of Bin Laden actually is and that the film itself would be a brilliant piece of work but that is exactly what Zero Dark Thirty is.
The main focus on the film is on the whole American intelligence operation following 9/11 and the hunt for Bin Laden, along with trying to prevent any more attacks. One thing I really respect about this film is that it doesn’t just show the attacks in America. It is probably the first American film dealing with terrorism I’ve seen that acknowledges the 7/7 Bombings with an incredibly handled recreation of the Tavistock Square bomb (by the way, I’m amazed that Bigelow got permission to film the recreation at Tavistock Square), along with the attack on the Islamabad Marriott in 2008. These different events give a very global feel to the whole film and makes the audience aware that it is not just America that has been affected by the War on Terror, but the whole world, something that very few films I’ve seen dealing with terrorism have represented. The film also shows the danger faced by all the CIA operatives all over the world, as seen when Maya is attacked outside her flat) and how some operatives are so concerned over getting a genuine source that they are willing to overlook basic safety procedures just so the informant has nothing to fear. This gives a brilliant sense of just what a total clusterfruitcake the whole thing was.
I also really appreciate the detail given to the recreation of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. The final act of the film is a full scale recreation shot in real time, mostly through night-vision with some bits shot in complete darkness (which can make it hard to understand what is going on some of the time) and even after Bin Laden’s death, the focus of the film doesn’t switch, it instead shows the conclusion of the raid and even shows that the intelligence recovered at the compound was more important than the death of Bin Laden, even by not making Bin Laden’s death a big deal in the scenes of the raid.
In terms of performances, the obvious standout is Jessica Chastain as Maya. This is a very difficult character to pull of, someone who is utterly devoted to finding Bin Laden, has no other life goal and doesn’t even have a real social life. This character could so easily become one-note but Chastain really nails the whole mood of the character in a way that makes the whole film believable and makes you see just how important she is to the CIA. Her best moment though comes at the very end when she cries in the plane after Bin Laden was killed. You can tell that she feels a sense of accomplishment over Bin Laden’s death but at the same time, there’s this sense of hollowness to the whole thing as she now has no goal for life, she literally spent all of her life after she left high school hunting for Bin Laden and she has nothing to look for now and Chastain sells everything Maya is feeling through a small scene of her crying.
The other cast members do really good jobs as well. I’ll get onto Jason Clarke in the next paragraph but he is brilliant. Kyle Chandler does a brilliant job as the head of the CIA post Maya’s at, showing a growing sense of frustration at the whole thing and this sense of frustration is further carried by Mark Strong, who is also excellent. All the actors playing the Navy SEAL team do a great job, really selling the expertise of the team in what they do, along with the comradery outside of missions. It also says a lot that even the smallest roles are filled by excellent actors, people like James Gandolfini and Stephen Dillane have relatively small roles but all do a great job. If there is one problem with the acting it’s that there is one really distracting actor in the film and that’s John Barrowman. No offense to Barrowman but all I can see whenever I see him in anything is Captain Jack from Doctor Who and Torchwood and that is just really distracting for me whenever he tries to do something serious. Still though, the acting is overall excellent.
Finally there are the infamous torture scenes. These scenes are shown to be incredibly brutal and have a serious negative effect of the torturers, in particular Jason Clarke as Dan, who yearns for a desk job to get away from it all. The thing though is that the film never really takes a side for or against torture, it just shows what happened and lets the audience make its own mind up. Some can say that the film is pro-torture as they wouldn’t have got the initial name they needed without it but you can also say how it didn’t work in that the vital information they needed, they were sitting on for 10 years but were so focused on torture that they didn’t realize it and that the big piece of information they got to find the compound was obtained through bribery instead of torture, showing how the agency were, as Mark Strong says in the film, weren’t doing their jobs. To that extent, I take an anti-torture line based on the overall information presented in the film.
Overall, this is a brilliant film. A deeply haunting look at the manhunt for Bin Laden headed by an incredible performance from Jessica Chastain which doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities or hollowness of what happened in the manhunt and has enough respect for the audience to let them make their own minds up about the events in the film.
My Rating: 5/5