A dark cinema is filled with echoes of screams and desperate pleas as people call 911 begging for help. It’s 11th of September 2001 and America is under attack. No pictures are needed to remind us of the utter terror the people caught in the Twin Towers suffered that day.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director, Zero Dark Thirty is not a million miles away from the movie that earned her the golden statue, Best Picture Winner, The Hurt Locker. She was lauded with high praise for her gritty realism, an uncompromising take on the US military and for highlighting America’s obsession with war. She deals with these issues once again in Zero Dark Thirty and it would seem that Bigelow is developing a trademark in her style of film making.
The script, which is based on ‘firsthand accounts and actual events’, was written by journalist and screenwriter, Mark Boal. The story of Zero is no secret, America is hell bent on killing the man that ordered the 9/11 attacks and we know that 9 years, 7 months and three weeks after the planes crashed, they succeeded in their mission, Osama Bin Laden was found and shot dead.
The movie plays out as a series of facts layered on top of each other that bring us to the final mission which occurs at Zero Dark Thirty – military jargon for half past midnight.
Oscar nominated Jessica Chastain stars as CIA operative Maya and we are first introduced to her during a torture scene – a theme that runs right through the movie and questions if torture was useful in supplying America with the answers they needed to find Bin Laden. In this version of events it seems it did. Chastain tackles the role with vigour and vulnerability, although we aren’t given any scope for getting to know the girl behind her tough, CIA exterior, aside from a few tears when her only friend is killed. Finding and killing Osama Bin Laden is her life, and nothing or no one is going to get in her way of doing that.
Maya fully believes the theory Bin Laden is living in a cave is utterly false, and by gathering information, albeit untrustworthy, from tortured prisoners, she works her way up the chain of al-Qaeda command until she is convinced she has found the compound the leader is living in. No one can back her claims 100%, but after terrorist attacks in London in 2005 and at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad in 2008, the CIA big wigs and the American government must decide if they can take the risk not to believe her.
Suspense is not in short supply in this movie, you are pretty much pinned to the back of your seat from the off. It goes into overdrive for the last half hour, as the Navy SEAL search the ‘Black Site’ for Bin Laden. Even though you know the outcome, watching the drama unfold in near darkness, you could be wearing night vision goggles the way the action is lit. The cameras are strategically placed giving it a first-person point of view and in many ways you feel like you have been immersed into video game like Call of Duty.
There is no doubt that this is an extremely well made movie, the acting is superb and the drama is pulse racing at times, but, I wasn’t completely overwhelmed by it. I came away from the cinema feeling somewhat sickened by the torture scenes yet enthralled by Jessica Chastain’s performance, but I wanted more from the story. The facts of this 10-year mission weren’t enough. I missed the background and the personal touch with the main characters. I wanted to feel something for them, but instead it came across as very detached. However, what it lacks in story and development of characters, Zero Dark Thirty definitely packs a thrilling punch and you will be hanging on every move the military makes the closer they get to Bin Laden.