8-14 February; DCA
Zero Dark Thirty offers a unique approach to some of the most shocking historical events of the last decade. Written and directed by The Hurt Locker’s Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, the film offers a behind the scenes look at the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Based on first-hand accounts from CIA agents, the film focuses on the journey of untested CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) in her quest to find Bin Laden.
Maya is first introduced through a series of interrogation scenes which take place in a detainee camp in Pakistan. She soon becomes obsessed with a tenuous lead and begins a long and often seemingly hopeless journey pursuing this piece of intelligence. The film spans a decade and depicts many of the attacks that took place during the “war on terror” including the 9/11 attacks, and the bombings in London and at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. Bigelow and Boal show a level of sensitivity to these events by adopting a sober tone which leaves little room for light-heartedness within the film. The success of this film is largely dependent on a career-defining performance by Jessica Chastain. Chastain’s portrayal of Maya is admirably convincing and her body language, expression and delivery give a real sense of depth to the character.
In terms of style, Zero Dark Thirty is exemplary of what we have come to expect from The Hurt Locker duo. The film uses shaky handheld camera work, POV shots, and intrusive close ups, which add a documentary feel to the film. This blurs the line between reality and imagination, often making the task of separating fact from fiction incredibly difficult. This effect is enhanced by the seamless integration of real media footage. Many of the scenes in the film are graphic, unforgiving and difficult to watch. However, this brutality is a necessary tool in the story’s narrative as it allows Bigelow to express the grim reality of the film’s subject matter.
Bigelow does not shy away from depicting the more sinister side of the CIA’s pursuit of Bin Laden. In fact, the first section of the film is almost entirely dedicated to depicting the torture and interrogation of detainees. But what is most interesting is Bigelow’s approach; by severely limiting the usual cinematic cues in the film (for example the use of emotive music) the audience is given the opportunity to interpret certain scenes of the film in a more neutral manner. This approach is rather risky as it relies heavily on the interpretation of the viewer and often leaves a sense of ambiguity around some contentious issues. However, by choosing to adopt this technique, Bigelow shows a level of respect for the audience which is perhaps uncommon across a great deal of mainstream cinema.
Despite having an America-centric perspective, Zero Dark Thirty does not glorify the hunt for Bin Laden nor does it celebrate his assassination. It is a story about the price of vengeance and the lengths people will go in order to achieve it. The film walks a moral tightrope, never drawing a clear distinction between good and evil. It is important to remember that Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatisation rather than a documentary. However, the film does give an interesting insight into a secretive world which lies beyond common view. With a run time of 160 minutes, Zero Dark Thirty will take you on a journey filled with deceit, determination and explosive action. If you are interested in contemporary events then this film is a must-see.