If you loved The Hurt Locker you will be champing at the bit to find a seat and have everyone quiet down so you can immerse yourself in the movie Zero Dark Thirty. Director Kathryn Bigelow has taken the Hurt Locker experience to a new level as you won’t be sure whether you’re watching the six o’clock news or waiting with President Obama in a locked-down situation room waiting for reports from the field. The movie opens brilliantly in pitch black with only the audio of armed forces radio as well as snippets of iconic media reports on the terrorist events we have heard and seen over the last twelve years. Don’t be late for the opening ten minutes.
Bigelow has again collaborated with Hurt Locker writer Mark Boal to craft a story that perfectly tracks through time from the 911 bombings to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. The Zero Dark Thirty story is one of a decade-long frustration amongst a worn and tired group of operatives. Agents follow up on dead-end leads and try to determine if pre-911 tactics are still in use by al-Qaeda. The desperation builds as they watch time waft away sometimes for lack of evidence and then because of a bureaucracy that stops initiative. As the CIA struggles to deliver UBL (Usama bin Laden) mistakes are made and the agency begins to question its own direction.
To follow the connection points in time we join CIA operative Maya played by Jessica Chastain. Her recent work in dramatic endeavours like The Help and The Debt showcase an immeasurable talent that some would have seen at an even deeper level in more art-house productions like The Tree of Life and Coriolanus. Chastain’s character is recorded as coming straight out of high school into the one project that will absorb her life and focus. Her youthful determination is initially idealistic and headstrong but as the pain grows through lost colleagues and searching for the needle in the wrong terrorist haystack the quest begins to mount its toll.
While the movie primarily concentrates on a nation’s search for its hidden oppressor, it has the side benefit of showing the danger a nation and its citizens can fall into in their desire for justice. One of the strong outcomes of the movie is to show how terrorist suspects and collaborators were caught, caged and interrogated. Some very strong scenes in the early part of the movie will be difficult for many to watch. While the justification for dealing with one’s enemy is clear, the means through which justice is carried out is not.
By watching the torture to find answers we ask ourselves whether we are complicit and whether we would prefer this work was done by other members of our society. In fact, we wish this was done in secret to allow us the peace of ignorance. Another interesting question asked through the eyes of the CIA agents is whether too much time at the front line of investigation and torturous interrogation is a step towards a tipping point where the despised tactics become the desired power.
The nature of the script calls for a strong supporting cast and with performances from Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Strong the movie is held in firm hands within every scene. While the movie is over two and a half hours long it’s the cast that carries it well from scene to scene. Joel Edgerton finally brings together the ground forces that will ultimately bring the prize home near the end of the story but not before James Gandolfini authorises the strike through the President in his role as CIA Director. I love seeing the occasional cameo from favourite actors given screen time in big event movies and seeing John Barrowman and a glimpse of Mark Valley in this outing was perfect.
One thing you won’t find in this review is the meaning behind the movie’s title. If you’re smart enough to know then don’t share and allow others to find it in the script. If you don’t know yourself then don’t look it up. See the movie and join the treasure hunt for the answers. For Zero Dark Thirty Bigelow and Boal have worked extremely well together as Director and Writer but also in the role of producers. Already the film is picking up awards for directing, writing, editing and best film at critics and film festival events. Now we can watch for talk of the Oscars for Zero Dark Thirty it’s really that good.
4 out of 5 popcorns.