I am sure you are aware of the controversy surrounding Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film about the decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Zero Dark Thirty is a great film, and its critics are attacking it mainly for political reasons.
Does the film show torcher? Yes. Does it show that, sometimes, torcher begets information? Yes. Does it show that people give information with torcher? Yes. Is this what happened? We all know it is. Does it endorse the past or simply portray it? Its critics would have you believe it is endorsing those policies, because they are shown to pay off. I would argue that that they aren’t really paying attention to the the last 2 hours of the film then.
All of this controversy is outside of the film itself, which is like All the President’s Men with a SEAL team raid at the end (and a few other moments of surprisingly jolting intensity). Bigelow, working again with The Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boel, displays complete mastery of filmmaking in this taught (even at over 2 and half hours) political thriller. So much exposition, yet somehow they make it work.
The story follows a CIA agent, Maya (a superb Jessica Chastain), as she tries for 10 years to locate Bin Laden. And this isn’t your normal silver screen lady. She is tough as nails even as she is easy on the eyes, and a force to be reckoned with in a world dominated my males navigating their egos around. She is a bit of a post-feminist character, showing that you can’t really have it all but you don’t have to give a damn about the part you can’t have (whether that is true or not I won’t say). Her character is said to be a composite of many women who were involved in the hunt, but based mostly on an agent simply referred to as “Jen”. I wonder where this Jen ended up….
She bounces around the globe following a lead that no one believes in, and eventually a compound that no one believes matters, and eventually some evidence that no one believes can be accurate, and eventually convinces everyone that they are wrong. The fact that I was on the edge of my seat most of the movie speaks to Bigelow’s unbelievable skill and craftsmanship (craftswomanship? we need new words).
The rest of the cast are foils and cyphers for our heroin to bounce off of, but they perform their roles well. Most memorable are Jason Clarke and Jennifer Ehle. Its also fun to see Chris Pratt (from Parks and Recreation) as a SEAL team member.
The movie is beautifully filmed, has a great pacing, and only seems a bit long right before it jolts you into remembering that this movie is about terrorism, and that always takes you by surprise.
Its a shame the Bigelow didn’t get another nod for director from the Academy, but alas, it was a great year for films and this is definitely one of the best of 2012. When the controversy dies away, and the film lives on, I believe it will be one that we look back on that accurately captures our national mood in the decade post 9/11, and hopefully we will have answered the question asked at the end of the film, “Where do you want to go?”