Zero Dark Thirty Review
4 out of 5 stars
Powerful only just begins to describe this year’s thriller Zero Dark Thirty, a film that packs a hard punch and leaves viewers with a writhing feeling.
The film digs deep into the events that traversed after the attacks on 9/11, following the story of “the greatest manhunt in history” for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Jessica Chastain stars as CIA officer Maya, who leads the search to find “the needle in the hay stack” that is bin Laden’s whereabouts. Through interrogation and torture tactics, Maya latches onto the lead of one Abu Ahmed, who is thought to be the courier for bin Laden himself.
As Maya struggles to uncover the truth, she is thwarted by political higher-ups and dead-ends at every turn. With the loss of friends and colleagues surmounting, Maya throws herself into the mission of finding and killing bin Laden.
Though the inevitable outcome of the manhunt is public knowledge, director Kathryn Bigelow still manages to portray a deadly tension, which is key to the film’s success. Zero Dark Thirty has a haunting, burning edge to the events that unfold, built up by Alexandre Desplat’s captivating and poignant musical score for the film.
With actual news broadcasts thrown in the mix of the inconspicuous work the CIA conducted, the film has a documentary feel to it. Events are cited chronologically, with everything from the attack on the World Trade Center and the 2005 London bombings all the way up to the discovery of the bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan being highlighted. It is a comprehensive history of the post-9/11 world from the viewpoint of people fighting to find the man responsible.
There wasn’t much lightheartedness in the movie’s almost 3-hour span. Jason Clarke’s character Dan was eccentric and kind of funny in his delivery. But the whole film screams clandestine, intrigue and a hush-hush mentality, including subject matter such as “black sites,” practiced tradecraft, the counter-terrorism SEAL Team Six and stealth helicopters.
And yet, Zero Dark Thirty’s real power stems from the moral and ethical questions that churn under its every pore. In the very first scene, a detainee, Ammar, is being tortured at a black site. As the audience is forced to watch, the man is subjected to physical and mental cruelties. It makes the viewer ask themselves how far we were really willing to go to find bin Laden, as well as if it was all worth it.
According to Ammar’s interrogator, Dan, everyone breaks because “It’s biology.”
The filmmakers have been accused of taking a pro-torture stance in its portrayal of the events. Bigelow has since remarked to that she disagrees with this viewpoint, and I feel the same.
Torture is an ugly and hard fact for some to swallow, but it has been a part of the War on Terror. To not include it would have been skirting over history and enabling a propaganda that reads as Americans being innocent of any wrong-doing in their fight for justice. Bigelow’s film was instead willing to go into the dark recesses of the past decade without trying to sugar coat anything.
Those planning to see Zero Dark Thirty in order to get their own cathartic revenge on bin Laden will find what they’re looking for, but it’s a far cry from a short walk to get there. Maybe because the events are still so recent in our collective memory that the film is able to feel like a knife plunged into the heart; its cold metal refusing to release, refusing to give the final satisfaction until the final conclusion.