If I’d seen Zero Dark Thirty last year I’d say it’s the best film of 2012. To say it’s the best of 2013 doesn’t say as much since we’re so early in the year but I’ll be surprised if it’s not up there as one of the greatest come December. It’s a brilliant film, impressive film-making and a masterpiece in directing. I absolutely loved it.
Spanning a decade, from 9/11 to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty follows a fresh-faced agent (Jessica Chastain) in her struggle and what quickly becomes an obsession to find OBL. It’s tense and gripping stuff that questions the morality of torture a subject which has given rise to much controversy and debate, and as a result drawn a great deal of negative attention to the film. Since I can’t put it better, Richard Cohen of the Washington Post compared Zero Dark Thirty to a ‘Rorschach’ that some people see as an endorsement of torture while others (such as myself) don’t. In my opinion it doesn’t comment on whether or not torture is OK but does raise the question of whether under some circumstances we can justify these extreme methods when lives are at stake. Moreover does torture even work? However, all this debate goes far beyond the film which acts as a mere spring-board for a bigger issue, something which I could happily talk at great length on and bore you to death so I’ll move on.
There are so many elements to this film that contribute to its success, and by success I mean why I love it so much. Firstly I love historical, war, and political films, of which Zero Dark Thirty is all. Secondly is Mark Boal’s intellectual and emotionally stirring script, that along with Kathryn Bigelow’s immense directing talent immerse you in the thick of war, both on the ground among the troops; a familiar writing/directing territory for them from their award-winning Hurt Locker, and in US government. But no script or direction is worth much without the actors you give it to and Zero Dark Thirty has some of the best. Jessica Chastain, who plays CIA Operative Maya, dominates the film in a strong female role and completely owns it. While Zero Dark Thirty is a political piece centred on war it’s also a strong character driven piece and she is in complete control. Chastain was practically unheard of until her break in 2011 when she captured our hearts with her performance as Celia Foote in The Help and the odd but beautiful Terrence Malick film The Tree of Life. Since then she’s has a steady flow of work and increasingly great roles, all of them heart warming. And she’s not the only one who delivers a stand-out performance. Jason Clarke, who worked with Chastain in Lawless, balances his character, the CIA Operative whose job it is to extract information from detainees, with equal objectiveness, morality, and above all warmth. You’d expect to hate someone in this line of work but instead you feel somewhat sympathetic toward him. Zero Dark Thirty has so many great characters, Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), Ammar (Reda Kateb), George (Mark Strong), Patrick (Joel Edgerton), Justin (Chris Pratt), and my personal favourite (for no other reason than I was obsessed with him as a teenager when I used to watch Heartbreak High) Callan Mulvey who plays Saber, one of the Navy SEALS sent to kill Bin Laden. There are so many others, it’s a huge casts with a few surprise cameo’s, but still it’s Chastain who deserves most of the attention.
It’s a long film with a running time of two hours thirty-seven minutes, but unlike Lincoln which is stretched out far too long and is overly talky, Zero Dark Thirty keeps a great pace injecting that much-needed action without overuse to balance the heaviness of its political narrative and keep an attentive, captivated audience. And on top of all that is a brilliant soundtrack which compliments, highlights and also strengthens each scene.
I wouldn’t say this is a film for everyone. It’s rated 15 so that rules the kids out and teenagers’ probably wont get much from it either. It’s aimed heavily toward adults and those with an interest in war and politics but there’s enough action in it to entertain those wanting something exciting. I’d give it a second watch at the pictures, but it’s time on the big screen is coming to an end at which point I’ll watch it again and again on DVD. It’s definitely worth the two and half hours of you life and the money you’ll be spending to see it.