Written by Ty Coughenour
Kathryn Bigelow returns to the Middle East in her gritty political thriller Zero Dark Thirty that chronicles the manhunt of Osama Bin Laden. If you enjoyed the Hurt Locker (who didn’t?) you will love this film. It is shot and edited in the exact fashion The Hurt Locker was where we as the audience get to experience the pain, fear, anger, ugliness, and uncertainty that went into finding America’s public enemy #1 which took over ten years. This film portrays not only the manhunt, but how the United States has had to react to a war with an enemy who doesn’t play by the rules, is nowhere to be found and seemingly going nowhere. Don’t go into this film thinking you are going to be marching down the street waving an American flag screaming “We got em, We got em!” after it’s done. You are going to walk away knowing that the war on terror has forever changed the way we as the United States deal with our enemies in a world driven by hate and fear and that killing Osama Bin Laden is in no way the end of this story.
The film focuses around a CIA agent named Maya played by Jessica Chastain whose entire focus has been finding Osama Bin Laden since she arrived at the agency. The year is 2003 and it’s been less than two years since 9/11 where we are first introduced to Maya. She is accompanying a fellow CIA agent named Dan played by Jason Clarke into an interrogation of a suspected Al Qaeda member who knows more than he lets on. Suffice to say Dan is a ruthless interrogator which shocks the seemingly soft Maya and we are led to believe that maybe Maya isn’t cut out for what it really takes to get the answers you are looking for in the no holds barred war on terror that quickly ensued after 9/11.
After a vivid portrayal of Americans issuing out torture like it’s going out of style, the prisoner finally leaks information about a man named Abu Ahmed who is a courier for Osama Bin Laden. This bit of information sends Maya on a wild goose chase trying to find this Abu Ahmed because she feels that finding him is the key to finding Osama Bin Laden. This hunch takes Maya on a chase that lasts nearly a decade and we see Maya grow from the insecure woman in the middle of her first interrogation to a hardened warrior that wants nothing more than to find and kill Osama Bin Laden by any means necessary, even if that means scrounging the desert herself. All right that last part was an exaggeration but what I’m saying is she turns into one ultimate badass.
Over the years Maya follows her instinct even if it’s met with strong opposition from numerous high ranking officials; All of them men which I’m not even going to begin to analyze but just thought I should throw that out there. Nevertheless, Maya continues to push forward in her obsession to deliver what she was brought to the CIA to do, find and kill Osama Bin Laden. * SPOILER ALERT * She does. Though this film portrays a story that we already know the end to, it in no way ever has a dull moment because we as the audience understand how important and nearly impossible this mission truly was. I found myself sitting at the edge of my seat most of the film whether I was watching a shootout or a bunch of bureaucrats sitting in a conference room deciding on what to do next.
The credit has to be given to Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal the screenwriter for creating such a realistic portrayal of the manhunt, the politics behind it and uncertainty that comes from fighting/working in the Middle East. The two worked together on The Hurt Locker, which gave the war in the Middle East a face, and in this film we now can better understand what it really took to find Osama Bin Laden. The film not only showed what it took to find him but it also shows us how the war on terror has pushed the United States in an aggressive and unforgiving path of destruction and pain to get what we want, whether or not it’s truly worth it. I for one was surprised that I wasn’t fist pumping after the film because like the film portrays, killing Bin Laden isn’t the end, but it’s an event that could quite possibly begin to heal wounds and lead us to a path in the right direction in a war and also as a country.
Jessica Chastain gives a performance I’m sure any actress would have loved to sink their teeth into but I don’t know if anyone could have done it better. I was mesmerized by her strength, intelligence and obsessive nature she brought to the role. She plays a female character that you rarely get to see in films but after this film, I think we will begin to see more characters like hers in the near future. Maya represents today’s woman and in essence today’s world where it’s not just the boys who oversee meetings, make the decisions and kill the bad guy.
Also, Jason Clarke is a scene-stealer in this film. His grunge CIA interrogator is as every bit charming as he is ruthless. When you watch him on the screen it’s easy to forget that he is playing the good guy because of his violent actions but he pulls it off. Every scene he was in I couldn’t take my eyes off of him because of his charismatic performance. We are going to be seeing a lot of Jason Clarke in the near future. That’s a guarantee.
Zero Dark Thirty: 9 out of 10