From the moment it opens to its climatic end; Zero Dark Thirty and it’s director Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker & The Hurt Locker) puts you through the ringer emotionally. Unfortunately for Bigelow, this film has been subjected to extra scrutiny. It’s unflinchingly realistic depictions of waterboarding, less than humane conditions at unnamed CIA “Black Sites” and suicide bombings is where Bigelow excels. However, it draws its greatest criticisms from these scenes. So much criticism that, the Intelligence Committee will investigate Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers’ CIA access.
That’s where you come in, Mr. and Mrs. Moviegoer. I found Zero Dark Thirty to be more enjoyable when taken in the context of simply, a film. Leave your opinions of torture, Guantanamo Bay or anything having to do with the post September 11th War on Terror at home. Think of it this way. You wouldn’t use Backdraft as a training manual on firefighting? Why treat this film as a documentary. When you trade in your money for a movie ticket remind yourself that you’re seeing a film. While it is based on real events; it is still a movie. Let the politicians bicker over who knew what. Now with my pseudo-disclaimer out of the way…
Zero Dark Thirty starts with the chilling audio of first responders and the emergency calls reporting the terrorist attacks of New York on September 11, 2001. Our first images of the film are set in an undisclosed CIA location in 2003 where extreme interrogation techniques are being used on a man named Ammar with ties to Al-Qaeda. It’s also where meet Jessica Chastain’s character who remains nameless throughout most of the film. It’s subtleties like that, which adds to the authenticity of the movie. From there, we travel the Middle East with the ultimate goal of the capture of Osama Bin Laden. Though the cast is largely familiar while lacking star power; there aren’t any weak performances. With that said, there is no upstaging Jessica Chastain. This is her finest role since The Help in 2011. She’s the bold, fearless leader of her unit, standing alone in the center of a search for the world’s most wanted man. During the climatic raid on the compound in Abattaba, Pakistan, which seems to unfold in real time; we’re a fly on the wall in one of the most tense scenes in cinema this year.
We shouldn’t be surprised by such a stirring performance. With Bigelow’s masterful direction that seems to take into account every detail; Zero Dark Thirty requires two viewings. The First to acclimate yourself to the tension of two hours, forty minutes of an elevated heart rate. A second viewing to absorb a truly special piece of cinema as a whole. Oscar winner Mark Boal’s (The Hurt Locker) screenplay is rife with the politics and constant risk management that goes with an operation like this. Everyone wants to celebrate the win but not be accountable for a loss. Bigelow brings it all together as an emotional ride that doesn’t waste any of its 157 minutes. Doing all of this while portraying the death of Bin Laden in such a tasteful way should earn Bigelow a Best Director nomination. It should but it won’t. Regardless, Zero Dark Thirty is hard to watch at times but, its narrative is hard to forget.
FINAL GRADE: A
Reel Film News Movie Review by: Jahmal Harrell
157 Minutes Rated: R