Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, a young CIA operative who following 9/11 is thrown into the hunt for Bin Laden. At first we see the struggle Maya faces when shown the torture of detainees such as waterboarding, but realizing that duress may provide valuable information as to the whereabouts of Bin Laden’s courier Abu Ahmed, she slowly grows to accept the violent methods of interrogation. Maya spends the next ten years of her life devoted solely to tracking down the Al-Qaeda leader, and most of the film focuses on her character’s belief that Bin Laden is hiding in plain sight somewhere in contact with the world, not hunched over a dialysis machine in a cave in the mountains.
The build up throughout the first half of this film has some good scenes, but is by-and-large a little choppy as it is edited in such a way that it cuts quickly and the dialogue is quick-fire and sometimes meaningless. The build up of the film does a fine job in giving us the historical context for the hunt, leaving out the September 11 attacks for the most part (which we all know about), and instead reminds us of the bombings in London by Al-Qaeda in 2005, the 2009 Camp Chapman attack, and potential plans to blow up Heathrow airport. However, what really makes this film so unique and what actually deserves all the accolade the film has been receiving, is the final 40 minutes in which Bigelow quite truthfully films the storming of Bin Laden’s compound by a Navy SEAL team. This conclusion, despite us knowing the outcome, could not be much more intense, and is a great little piece of storytelling. While the film has been marketed as a spy-thriller, the concluding raid of the compound is quite cold in its portrayal of American soldiers. The SEAL team do capture and kill Osama Bin Laden, but they also lay waste to many others in the house, sometimes firing shots into dead bodies just to be sure.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is a great film that tells a compelling true story which still hits close to home for many Americans. There are some issues in the initial filming and dialogue, but the film concludes itself well and Bigelow shoots with enough style to maximize Jessica Chastain’s performance, as well as to show off her skill as a director. Still, this movie isn’t the same level as the in-depth character study that The Hurt Locker was. Regardless of its flaws, Zero Dark Thirty certainly packs a punch in its depiction of torture and the complicated process of finally tracking down Bin Laden after ten long years.