Zero Dark Thirty

27 Jun

zero dark thirty

 

 

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writer: Mark Boal

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 157 minutes

 

Zero Dark Thirty is the award winning film of the hunt for Osama bin Laden (OBL) from the award winning director Kathryn Bigelow. The film and manhunt start with the 2001 terrorist atrocity in New York and end with the 2011 raid on the compound in Abbottabad in northern Pakistan. The opening phone recordings of people trapped in the twin towers are distressing. That the film jumps straight to a black site where a CIA operative is engaged in water boarding a prisoner is telling.

The film-makers are clearly keen to try and debate the subjects of rendition and torture, but ultimately fail to do so as they simply don’t commit to a position. Later in the film a CIA man complains that since they ‘scrapped the detainee program’ they cannot confirm if OBL is in Abbottabad. He feels that holding and interrogating detainees is critical to success in the so-called war on terror, but what do the film-makers think?

The central character of this movie is Maya (played by Jessica Chastain). It is her crusade to locate and kill OBL that drives the film forward. Most of her CIA colleagues lose interest, but she is obsessed and consumed by the hunt. Why that is the case is not clear, but the brief glimpses of Maya’s non-military life reveal a woman with little else to fill her time. She is a loner and she is socially inept. That is not enough to flesh out the character and a flaw with the film is the ambiguous and flat aspect to Maya’s personality, especially when compared to the far more interesting Dan (played by Jason Clarke).

Another flaw is the length and pacing of the film. It is brutally long at 157 minutes and it cannot sustain that duration. Why pad out a film where everyone knows the ending? I got the feeling that Kathryn Bigelow was so excited by her access to participants of the manhunt that she got carried away retelling the story. Certainly there is no need for the endless array of situation room briefings, debriefings, meetings and planning sessions in which operatives mumble away at each other in hard to fathom CIA speak. Talk is quick, elliptical and strictly for insiders. That might be highly authentic, but it does little for the audience.

There are a few positive aspects to this film such as the raid on OBL’s compound. That is a very well-conceived and tense segment with excellent use of night vision. Jason Clarke as Dan is very good and there are good cameos later on from Mark Strong and James Gandolfini. Unfortunately, that is not enough to redeem the film. It sidesteps the serious subject of the role of detaining and torturing prisoners and the central character of Maya is far too opaque. Those are big flaws and I am surprised that Bigelow missed them. Why, after all, did she make the film?

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