Zero Dark Thirty Film Review

From the director of Oscar winning The Hurt Locker (2008) comes another intense and intellectually challenging film.

Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow’s second collaboration with screenwriter Mark Boal, spans an entire decade as it begins with the haunting phone calls made during the 9/11 attack and follows the hunt for and the final moments in al-Qeada terrorist Osama bin Ladin’s (OSBL) life. Where The Hurt Locker was inspired by Boal’s own life experiences within the US army in Iraq, Zero Dark Thirty  (2008) is based on the extensive research and behind the scenes operatives that drive the forces, with apparently direct access to key CIA personnel.

Zero Dark Thirty follows Maya, a CIA agent who has only ever known the CIA having been recruited straight out of education. Known as a ‘killer’ in the job she is a strong willed character that manages to find vital links that eventually lead the defeat of OSBL. Maya is a woman struggling to find her place and acceptance in a male dominated world, but she manages to succeed and build a success career for herself due to her determination, psychological insight and intelligence. However, this comes at a cost for Maya as she finds herself alone and isolated in the world not knowing where to turn for comfort.

In a film where the audience already knows the outcome Bigelow has managed to create an intense atmosphere that will, in the final scene, leave the audience on the edge of their seats. Bigelow, not only enriches, but complicates the public’s perception of what occurred on those fateful days. She manages to look behind the scenes of the all-male navy SEALs, who finally killed OSBL, and found the women that helped make all of this possible. As the first female director to have ever received an Oscar for Best Director, Bigelow herself has become an iconic female figure in film, choosing to direct films in a typically male-dominated genre. Therefore, the use of a strong female protagonist gives this thriller an edge as Maya is a fictional addition to the events that realistically took place, making this an interesting choice for Bigelow.

The use of torture in Zero Dark Thirty has raised much controversy, not only has it sparked the debates surrounding the tactics used by the army, but has raised questions surrounding Bigelow’s own moral standing on the subject. The torture scenes are graphic and definitely not for the faint hearted, but are simply a depiction and not an endorsement, as Bigelow has defended herself. The scenes seem to be depicted in a non-judgemental way, in fact the audience, if anything, is made to feel incredibly uncomfortable watching these scenes, rather than supporting the actions. This thriller brings a sense of realism back home to the audience, who themselves in most cases will have felt fairly distanced from the war due to their geographical circumstances. Therefore, thrillers such as Zero Dark Thirty give the audience a sense of understanding and intrigue that keeps the film fresh and suspense-filled despite the known outcome, but it is an understanding that is undoubtedly from a western perspective.

With an all-round fantastic cast, especially the phenomenal performance by Jessica Chastain as Maya, Zero Dark Thirty is a gripping thriller that will have audiences on the edges of their seats and is a must watch for 2013.

Written by Shirley Welton, who also blogs at Beyond The Edges Of The Frame.

Follow her on twitter @shirley­_welton

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