Kathryn Bigelow has made her name famous by snatching up an Oscar for directing and being the first woman to do so. Her film, “The Hurt Locker” is an amazing movie. Her newest venture with the writer of “Locker”, Mark Boal, has seen its share of controversy. “Zero Dark Thirty” recounts the steps taken by CIA operative, Maya, to insure that Osama bin Laden is caught.
The opening scene of “Zero Dark Thirty” grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. It opens on a black screen with 9-1-1 calls being heard from when the Trade Center was attacked. The calls seems to never end, some of the people are calm and some are nervous wrecks. It’s such a powerful scene, that when the movie actually begins it’s sort of a step backwards.
Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a tough woman with a pretty exterior who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. She’s great in this role. Seemingly dancing from one genre to the next in her acting career, Chastain is quickly becoming one of the most sought after actresses in film.
The beginning scenes are the ones that the controversy is surrounding—the torture scenes. Dan (Jason Clarke) is the torturer, his voice can be heard in the trailer: “I’m a bad man.” He water-boards the victim and does other unpleasant things to him, but all in the name of patriotism. This is why the film was under so much scrutiny. Did Americans use torture to gain information about the whereabouts of bin Laden? Ultimately, it’s a movie and has taken certain rights in storytelling but it does appear that Boal did his research. I’m not sure if I’m swayed either way on the issue. The film has a very ironic moment when there’s a lull in a conversation, President Obama’s voice can be heard on the television, renouncing the use of torture.
The torture doesn’t seem to work and it’s Maya who finally figures out ways to make the prisoner break. She’s a tough woman who has no end to her drive.
The torture scenes were actually the weakest parts of the movie, for me. After the film gets going, past the torture scenes, it picks up speed and carries that momentum to the final moments of the movie. The script is well-written, if a bit bizarre in its approach.
Mark Boal decides to take a rather Tarantino-Pulp Fiction approach and has the screenplay divided into named sections. There are maybe five of these sections in the film. I’m not sure that these work in favor of the movie. When you expect a break (much like the chapter breaks in “Inglorious Basterds”) you don’t get one. Then when you expect the story to keep rolling you enter into another section. It’s not as good as his previous work.
This film is interesting because from the beginning, you know what’s going to happen. Much like “All the President’s Men” or even “Argo”, the viewer knows what’s going to happen as soon as the movie begins. How it happened is another thing.
Whether all the details are precise or everyone’s name is correct doesn’t matter anymore. Chastain gives a great performance and she and Bigelow carry the movie to the end. This film is exciting and well-executed. Keep a critical mind though, I’m not saying that I believe that everything in the film is true. What I do believe is that “Zero Dark Thirty” is a film, and that’s enough for me.
Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4