Zero Dark Thirty: Gritty, Worthwhile

Zero Dark Thirty: Gritty, Worthwhile

A strong candidate for best picture of the year at the annual academy awards, military and modern day thriller Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of a woman’s obsession to track down Osama Bin Laden after the events of 9/11. Does Zero Dark Thirty live up to its hype or just get by with controversial material and an indie background? Somehow this film achieves both in the almost 3 hour running time.

The film does a very good job of taking real life terrorist attacks planned by Al Qaeda and placing them into the narrative in a way that connects the events to the main protagonist, CIA Operative Maya played by Jessica Chastain. Tasteful yet haunting sounds of the tragic 9/11 attacks shows the audience why she is tracking down Osama Bin Laden, but as time passes, it becomes clear that the hunt has become far more personal for Maya. The way the film presents Maya’s growing obsession for Osama Bin Laden, is a primary strength as she becomes more and more desperate to find Bin Laden and we clearly see this though how she talks to her colleagues and the acts she takes to get her information.

Jessica Chastain does a decent job of portraying a cold, dedicated woman on a mission but her role isn’t much more than walk around, say some stuff and repeat. Even though we understand her personal sacrifices, Maya doesn’t come across as a likable character. Strange considering some of her lesser used colleagues, such as Jason Clarke’s Dan, are very interesting to watch. Dan is a friend of Maya who introduces her to the torture of possible Al Qaeda members.

The depiction of torture in this film is disturbing and grimy, the kind of grimy that makes you uncomfortable in your seat and makes you almost want to turn away. Which is the point the film is making. Torture isn’t just punching someone in the stomach and screaming at them; it’s crushing their spirits and their minds. The physical humiliation and interrogation are meant to be as realistic as possible, to which the film deserves tremendous credit for. Most filmmakers would shrink and edit out the torture scenes . Director Kathryn Bigelow (who also directed the masterful, hair-raising war film The Hurt Locker) pulls no punches and is set on showing us the closest we can get into the life of a CIA Operative and the long search for Bin Laden.

Though it does feel three hours long, the film is expertly paced. There’s never a dull moment; every scene has your attention, and for a film with very little action, that’s impressive. The dialogue is well written and while perhaps one could get lost in all of the military jargon, the screenplay is tight and well put together to create a cohesive storytelling experience mixed with real life events. The finale in particular is excellent, with the Navy Seal team’s infiltration of Bin Laden’s fortress. Like most of the film the events shown are events that took place in real life, giving the ending and the film as a whole,a gritty and believable look and feel.

In terms of the film’s technical achievement the cinematography is well shot and while the music is subtle and not memorable, the score does fit the action on screen. While not the highest level of priority for the film’s success, the visual effects are surprisingly good for a lower budgeted film. On a technical level Zero Dark Thirty is as solid as most thrillers.

Let’s be clear, Zero Dark Thirty is a good film and deserves most of the praise it gets. It’s well made and holds your attention at all times. The film is also very thought provoking and makes you think about the times and society we live in. That said, this isn’t the greatest war film or spy thriller ever. There are flaws in the film that should be obvious to most people. Yet, because of its subject matter, Zero Dark Thirty is getting a pass. It’s well worth your time to watch this film and see what the buzz is all about for yourself.