MOVIE REVIEW: Zero Dark Thirty

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Kathryn Bigelow’s follow up to the Oscar winning Hurt Locker tells of the decade long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. How does it hold up to all the talk?

zerodarkZERO DARK THIRTY
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Jessica Chastain – Maya
Kyle Chandler – Joseph Bradley
Jason Clarke – Dan
Jennifer Ehle – Jessica
Harold Perrineau – Jack
Mark Strong – George
James Gandolfini – C.I.A. Director
John Barrowman – Jeremy
Joel Edgerton – Patrick – Squadron Team Leader

Right from the opening seconds you know that this is not going to be a light and fluffy movie-going experience: as a blank screen is all you see, with (presumably) real life recordings of people trapped in the World Trade Centre playing. The last words these people will say. This is why Osama Bin Laden must be found, at any cost, by any means necessary.

DARK, IN TITLE AND TONE.

Right after that we are thrown in to the deep end, as an interrogation is being conducted on a “detainee” at a CIA Black Site. This is an unflinching depiction of torture/interrogation of accused associates of Bin Laden. It certainly doesn’t glamorise the methods used either. There is an uncomfortable realism to these scenes, and an intimacy too. The viewer feels part of the scene, which is not a terribly pleasant feeling. And this feeling continues throughout the movie.

Let’s address the elephant in the room here. There has been a lot of talk about the use of torture in this movie, and I think this talk is a little unwarranted. This movie does not justify the use of torture, but certainly doesn’t condemn it either. Was torture used as an interrogation technique? Of course. But should they? Was it right? And, possibly most importantly, was it necessary? These are the questions raised by the movie, but it doesn’t answer them. It is up to the viewer to do that. Do the ends justify the means?

BRILLIANT PERFORMANCES

In the opening scene we are introduced to Maya, the central character in this movie, played exceptionally well by Chastain. This is a strong and relentless woman, who will not stop ‘til she accomplishes her task: capturing, or killing, the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Oddly, Maya doesn’t really have a character arc to speak of, instead she goes through a series of intense events, but finishes the movie very much the same person she begins, only she is more determined to succeed. Like all the performances in the movie, hers is not a grandstanding performance, instead it is pared down and instinctive – a solid foundation upon which the movie can be built.

Around her is assembled a brilliant cast, all of whom are very believable. Mark Strong could be in it more, as could Kyle Chandler, but that is mainly because I could watch them in anything. I think Jason Clarke deserves particular mention, as he is not as well known as the other stars, but does a brilliant job, showing the human face of an interrogator, and showing the toll it takes on a person. The actors portraying the detainees, and their free counterparts, are a vital cog to the movie also. If you don’t believe them, or their plight, you don’t believe the movie.

WELL EXECUTED

This movie is meticulously crafted by Bigelow. The movie is about the slow, meticulous job of following hints of threads of leads, but it is told in such a way that it is very engaging, and tense. There is a low key filmmaking style, almost documentary like. Not showy, or flashy, but instead very engrossing, and really draws you in to the people, and their story. The “action” scenes are, for the most part, unexpected and explosive, amping up the tension, as opposed to relieving it. Amidst all this there are a handful of light moments, but no laugh out loud moments, as it would not be in keeping with the tone of the movie. You rarely notice the music, as it quietly builds the tension.

This movie is filled with tension, particularly the climax, despite the fact that you already know how it is going to end. It is very dark, in so much as there is not much light, which has you kind of straining to see the specifics of what is going on. This really draws you in to the unfolding events, and adds to the tension.

BOTTOM LINE: UNCOMPROMISING, AND BRILLIANT

So…This is a very good movie, and a movie that should be seen. It asks questions of the viewer that the viewer may not want to answer, concerning torture and its place in this manhunt. Built on the foundation of two women, the director and the lead, it is a tense and engrossing movie, incredibly well executed.

Rating: ★★★★½

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