This review could go two ways… it could be a long boring film with too much talk and not enough action, or it could be a triumphant portrayal of inspiring true events. Let’s find out (at this point I am still unsure).
Zero Dark Thirty refers to the time half past midnight, when Osama Bin Laden was finally shot in his home in Pakistan by US military. This must have been a title that director Kathryn Bigelow and crew had come up with later as the film was originally going to tell the story of the unresolved pursuit for Osama Bin Laden. Fortunately (in all sense of the word), they were gifted with a different ending, and a much more satisfying one at that.
We follow Maya, Jessica Chastain, on her incredulous mission to find the infamous terrorist which slowly engulfs her life and borders on obsession. The film spans over around 12 years, in which the audience follows Maya and her developments in finding OBL. The transitions in time through out this film were extremely subtle, almost confusing in some parts. It was a refreshing change from a blatant “5 YEARS LATER” but perhaps could have been a little more obvious than a quick remark or a slight change in hair style (although I had major hair envy from those beautiful red curls in the beginning!). I finally realised how fast time was going when a fellow CIA agent commented that 5 years had gone by since Maya had started working on the case, at that point I had barely noticed the months go by in the story line! Despite my slight confusion, the film flowed very naturally through the events that lead up to catching one of the most wanted men in history.
In fact, upon reflection the whole film flowed very naturally. Zero Dark Thirty begins with Maya experiencing her first interrogation, and torture. Pretty controversial, but brave to show the torture techniques of the CIA on suspected terrorists. Brave or just truthful? I am not sure, it’s a touchy subject that we could debate for a long time, so lets just say it works in this film. BUT it went on for too long. It showed the harshness of the torture, and the longevity of its affects, however I felt it could have been cut down quite severely and still would have had the same impact on the audience. Especially seeing as this film was about 2 hours 45 minutes long, there was room for some more scenes to see the cutting room floor that’s for sure. These moments though showed us Maya’s personal development, ingenuity and determination even in the early stages of her assignment. We also see Jason Clarke, Maya’s mentor and teacher in a lot of respects, a pro-interrogator who gives us a very convincing performance.
I had only seen Jessica Chastain in Lawless but her talent wasn’t as well exhibited in that, as it is in this lead role. And ‘lead’ she does. Maya is a strong and powerful woman, and this is displayed brilliantly by such a petite and seemingly unassuming actress. You can physically see the characters development as a CIA agent, and as a person who becomes more and more hell bent on achieving her mission. A fantastic performance, only made stronger by the supporting cast.
There were so many recognisable faces in the supporting cast! I love to play the game ‘where do I know that person from’ when watching a film too (although some times it bugs the hell out of me). Kyle Chandler I recognised from Argo, and seemingly playing the same role, I felt like it was a spin off (yet he hasn’t ages since the 80’s). I thought MERCUTIO as soon as I saw Harold Perrineau, and James Gandolfini will always be the evil bastard who beats up Alabama in True Romance. Mark Strong was in there, awesome as ever playing a senior CIA boss and has a fantastic line “Do your fucking job, and bring me some one to kill!”. Then I recognised Mark Duplass, who unfortunately plays a very convincing funny guy in the TV show The League so when he popped up as Steve the CIA guy I was brought out of the film for just a moment. Over all though a pretty brilliant cast, these are just faces I could place let a lone all the others.
I was sucked straight back in of course and swept up with the drama of Maya trying to convince people that the lead she had been chasing for years was the direct link to OBL. The link that they needed to nail him – and she was the ‘motherfucker’ who found it. I loved this touch, Maya is a ballsy woman and her attitude stinks but gosh darn it it’s her against the world and she will keep fighting until she’s finished what she started! I do wish though that we got to find out more about this woman, Maya – the closed book, so focused on her mission that she loses sight of anything else. Maybe this was done on purpose, no body really knew her and she didn’t let any one in, including us.
Now the part every one is talking about is the military manoeuvre on OBL’s suspected residence. The films climax. It had taken a LONG time to get to this part, unfortunately this being the case I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have done had I not already been sitting in the cinema for 2 and a half hours. However, it was absolutely brilliant. The fly on the wall style and POV shots were really intense and gripping. Some fantastic directing right there. Not even the appearance of Chris Pratt put me off (despite recently seeing him explode with poop in the epic fail Movie 43), he was actually a really good comic relief but totally believable part of the military team. The whole take over of Osama’s ‘fortress’ was the best part of the film, mixing night vision shots with real time made it all feel so authentic. The final shooting of OBL was very tasteful, there was no heroism or gallantry about it, just what felt like genuine shock and relief.
So despite Zero Dark Thirty being too long, and leaving the cinema not knowing if I had enjoyed the experience, whilst writing this review I have come to realise that it was in fact an excellent film. The final scene was very moving, the audience had followed Maya through her 12 year journey and then it finally ends so abruptly, I think everyone felt a weight lifted in the cinema. I couldn’t help thinking, what is she going to do now? How could you possibly go back to normality, from being recruited to the CIA after high school and working tirelessly on the same case for so long. Losing friends and colleagues along the way, I don’t know how you could ever come back from that, even though she was the main reason one of the worlds most dangerous men is no longer roaming free. An incredible story when you think about it. Films like these based on true life events resonate with me in a big way, because it is so much more meaningful when the characters you invest in emotionally are real people. I hope that the film did her justice, and that ‘Maya’ got all the credit and reward she deserves for her dedication to her job and country. A pretty amazing woman.