Review #23 Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty is based on the book of the same name by Mark Boal, and was originally going to be about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, but then they found him! So it became about the hunt, and him actually being found. Jessica Chastain’s character is also based on the same CIA agent as Carrie in Homeland is, except is substantially less crazy (not that it’s too hard to be less crazy than Carrie).

The movie follows a young CIA agent, Maya, as she receives her first posting in the Middle East. Early on she witnesses the torture of a prisoner by her colleagues, and this becomes a recurring theme throughout the movie- the moral question of whether or not this torture is excusable when it’s for the good of your country.

The story follows her pretty much from 9/11, across her various postings in Washington DC and the Middle East, following up her various leads on Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. She goes through terrorist attacks, and has to face up to bastard men who refuse to take her seriously.

The movie is dark, with loud background music and explosions. It’s a little too long, there are lots of scenes with discussions about the same thing over and over again (taking place a couple of years at a time), and seeing as everyone knows what’s going to happen in the end, the discussion scenes aren’t done in the most stimulating of ways.

Another one of the main problems with the story is that the audience doesn’t have much of a chance to connect with the characters. Jessica Chastain’s Maya is clearly the protagonist, and she’s held at arm’s length from us. Nobody else gets half as much screen time, and her relationships with other agents aren’t explored. There’s no romance, no comedy (obviously), all she has is her work, and after a couple of hours, there’s only so long you can feel sorry for her. She’s fairly one-dimensional.

However, if you are going to play a one-dimensional character who is married to her work, you may as well do it well. Jessica Chastain is great as Maya- she’s really burst onto the scene in the past three or four years and should forevermore be seen as a serious actress. Mark Strong also appears playing her CIA boss, unfortunately only for a few scenes though. His character piques interest in the film and makes it more dynamic, especially his interactions with Chastain. Unfortunately it’s not explored more, which is one of the film’s downfalls.

Brilliantly crafted by the director Kathryn Bigelow, there are scenes of heightened suspense. It’s a bold move politically, a risk more directors should take. As mentioned, the controversial ‘torture’ scene highlights the dilemma (or is it a dilemma) plenty of politicians and security personnel have- is it worth it?

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