Kathryn Bigelow's thrilling drama is a superlative piece of film making
"What do you think of the girl?"
"I think she's f***ing smart."
"We're all smart, Jeremy."
Fact or fiction? Documentary or drama? Zero Dark Thirty inhabits a strange void between these two strands of film making. The fact that it succeeds on pretty much every level whilst also walking this tightrope is an outstanding achievement.
Kathryn Bigelow (Director) and Mark Boal (Writer) were working on a film about the failed and ongoing attempts to capture Osama Bin Laden, only for current events to force them to make a film about the successful hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
For a story which is so covered in secrecy, Mark Boal has taken a lot of flak for the way he portrays the 10 year long hunt for Osama Bin Laden. To tell the 100% factually correct account would be impossible. There were too many people involved and too many dead end leads to produce the true life tale as a movie. Instead, Boal has merged individuals and their actions into a manageable number of characters. So the film isn't exactly true but is based on various truths, again blurring the line between fact and fiction. The characters presented in the film aim to represent the thousands of people involved over the 10 years.
It's hard to discuss the film without mentioning the controversy which surrounded the film on release in the United States. Many were angry at the film's narrative which suggests that torture was essential to the capturing of Bin Laden. Personally, I feel this issue is a lot more complicated than has been suggested. To say that the film implies that without torture, Bin Laden wouldn't have been found is a huge generalisation of the issue. I don't want to get bogged down in the controversy in this review but my extended analysis on the torture controversy can be found elsewhere on this blog (http://wedontneedtwometaphors.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/zero-dark-thirty-analysis.html).
Despite clocking in at a lengthy 157 minutes, there is absolutely no superfluous material in Zero Dark Thirty. It is a film totally in control of its story and characters. Everything in it is so tightly integrated that you can grab the film, hurl it above your head and nothing will fly out.
Kathryn Bigelow has gained plaudits from many critics, even those who didn't necessarily like the film, for the depiction of the raid on Bin Laden's hideaway. It's a magnificent sequence, shot through night-vision and with an unnerving stillness which proves that tension can be generated without a reliance on choppy editing and swift camera movements. Bigelow also manages to fill Zero Dark Thirty with tension and a sense of unease throughout the film. A particular scene involving the tracking of a vehicle in a crowded market was more thrilling than many overblown action sequences in recent memory.
Jessica Chastain is utterly compelling as Maya, a woman who quickly becomes obsessed with finding Bin Laden. The character development is subtle and avoids large grandstanding speeches where characters declare their emotions for everyone to hear. The likes of Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez and Mark Strong provide great support at various points during the 10 year manhunt.
Despite the array of supporting turns, it's quite fitting that the only two characters whose presence is found throughout the entire film are Maya and Osama Bin Laden.
Zero Dark Thirty is a film about the cost of unwavering obsession. Maya not only represents those involved in the hunt for Bin Laden, but the USA itself; a country which emerges from the darkness after achieving its greatest victory, unsure of where to go next.