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Jan 30, 2013

Film Review: ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012): Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal

Jessica Chastain Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty (2012Film Review, a movie directed by Kathryn Bigelow‘s and starring Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, Scott Adkins, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler, Taylor Kinney, Harold Perrineau, Jason Clarke, Édgar Ramírez, Frank Grillo, Mark Duplass, Stephen Dillane, and Lee Asquith-Coe.

The beginning of Zero Dark Thirty was an edged focal point, a dark, bitter reminder of what began the United States’ “War on Terror”. It was as bleak and empty as the solitude some of the people trapped in the World Trade Center must have felt as they awaited a rescue that never came.

A reprieve never reached some of those people whose voices echo in the opening moments of the film but resolve seeped into others through their deaths. A resolve to bring to justice those responsible for 9/11. One of those people was C.I.A. Officer Maya.

The most interesting aspect of this character was always on-screen but the second most interesting aspect of her and the C.I.A.’s hiring practices was only mentioned once and in placing: Maya was recruited for C.I.A. out of high school.

That brought to mind many questions: Did Maya go to college or upon graduating high school, did she immediately go C.I.A.’s Farm (a covert C.I.A. training facility). How did C.I.A. know or become aware of Maya in high school? Through her test scores, an essay she wrote? The viewer of Zero Dark Thirty never found out. It remained a tantalizing back-story tidbit that was never explored.

The main aspect of Maya, her hunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was fully explored in the film, segmented like chapters (e.g. “Human Error”, “Tradecraft” , “Canaries”, etc.) in well-written novel.

When torture is introduced into the film, Maya is silently appalled at it and the lengths US interrogators went to with prisoners to break them down.

Much like Walter “Heisenberg” White’s involvement in the drug world, as Maya took part in more and more “enhanced interrogations”, the more ambivalent she became towards them (she eventually oversaw them by herself and initiated prisoner abuse). Whether she became desensitized to torture or was ceasing upon internal resolve (my guess is that it was a little of both), it was never made clear in words or expressions. Maya’s face was a stone palate through the interrogations and most of the film, a champion poker player’s veneer that was rarely dropped.

One of the faults in the film is that when a date appears on screen, the viewer eventually realized that something major was going to happen, something of note either positive or negative. A clandestine Google search with the date + C.I.A. on a smart phone during the film could ruin many a surprise for the viewer.

After Maya was eventually fruitful in her bin Laden search, some of the sole humorous moments in the film began to show up. Tension and irritation made Maya lash out multiple times during the film, the most notable being a hallway argument between her and C.I.A. Islamabad Station Chief Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler). Maya deigned to dress down a senior C.I.A. officer in ear-shot of other government personnel with complete disregard for whether or not Bradley lost face. She also spoke truths that he was loath to admit to e.g bin Laden was responsible for al-Qaeda’s attention shift to overseas targets i.e. the United States. Maya didn’t want to see the fruits of her laborious tasks squandered and was tired of suffering fools. It was one of the best acted scenes in the film for both actors.

The unsaid is also present in the film. Characters mentioned things and it was up to the audience to fill in the gaps. Screenwriter Mark Boal relied on the intelligence of the audience, much like the writers of Boss but to a lesser degree, in increasing amounts throughout the chapters of the film.

Zero Dark Thirty was a 157 minutes long but never felt so, especially in its last thirty minutes which contained the actual assault on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. The sine missione assault was Black Hawk Dawn without the background music, war pathos, and separate story-lines. Everyone had a job to do when 00:30 struck and did so, especially the Navy Seals who had “overwatch” of the compound as local Pakistani came to investigate the explosions and detonations ringing out. There was a tense moment as a Seal was ready to “light up” an approaching crowd if they did not stop in their tracks.

When Maya looks into a particular person’s body bag at the end of the film, the scene and the end-of-a-journey sentiment carried far more weight than when Claire Danes had a similar moment on Homeland. The camera work leading up to and during that moment was impeccable: Maya saw the body bag at the end of a tent through Seal Team Six members, other personnel, and slowly approached it. Maya was transfixed on it and so the viewer became as well, as they had with whatever she focused on in the film.

Rating: 9/10