WRITTEN BY: Mark Boal
DIRECTED BY: Kathryn Bigelow
STARRING: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler
RATING: 4.5 stars
We all remember the devastating terrorist attack in New York on September 11, 2001. We also remember the day United States president Barack Obama announced to the world that Osama bin Laden was dead, captured by the US Navy SEALs. So how do you make an exciting thriller about something so widely reported in the media? Well, you just leave it to writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow to entertain you. Zero Dark Thirty is more than two-and-a-half hours long, and yet, the time seems to pass quickly. The pace never slows down, the dialogue is fast and intelligent, and there are more than a few moments that will make you jump.
Zero Dark Thirty follows the 10-year CIA hunt for Osama bin Laden, including all the leads and the dead ends along the way. Events depicted include President Obama ordering the CIA to stop the torture of terrorists, the 2005 London bombings and the 2008 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan. At times, it feels like a solid history lesson and almost like a documentary, although I'm sure there are many artistic liberties taken with the film. In fact, Zero Dark Thirty has been criticised by Washington politicians who say the film inaccurately depicts torture as integral in finding leads that led to bin Laden's death during a Navy SEALs raid in Pakistan in 2011. But really, despite feeling so realistic, the film is very much a work of fiction and I doubt anyone is watching it believing it is anything more than that. What made it so enthralling though was that Bigelow used real recordings and footage throughout the film.
The story spans so many years that there are inevitably several key characters throughout the film who weave in to inject some new interest and keep the plot running. However, at the heart of the film is one consistent and fascinating character. Maya (Jessica Chastain) has an amazing character arc throughout the film. She begins as an innocent CIA officer who feels awkward watching the violent interrogation of an al-Qaeda detainee led by Dan (Jason Clarke) who seems strangely calm during the controversial torture techniques. Maya then develops into a determined and strong woman obsessed with finding bin Laden. Chastain more than deserves the Oscar nomination for best actress and should win. Speaking of strong women, Jennifer Ehle is also impressive. A lot has been said about "girl power" in this film. While I agree that Maya kicks arse and is right about everything, I don't think this really has to be a feminist issue.
The men stack up quite nicely in this film too. Clarke is simply captivating. His character's tactics against terrorists include water-boarding and mental torture but he is not a stereotypical menacing interrogator. Rather, he can appear friendly and caring one moment before unleashing brutality without even blinking. Clarke deserved award attention for his role. It's a shame he was overlooked. The rest of the cast is also very good such as the Aussies who take on roles as the Navy SEALs including Joel and Nash Edgerton and Callan Mulvey. The raid scene runs for quite a while, but I was fully engrossed in the suspense, again despite knowing what happened in real life.
Zero Dark Thirty is a tense thriller and well worth a look. I wouldn't be disappointed if it won best picture at the Oscars.