Political controversies aside, Zero Dark Thirty is a thriller par excellence that grips you firmly and quietly by the neck. It is also the kind of film that demands focus from the outset. If you choose to give in — investing 157 minutes will payoff handsomely.
At the center of Kathryn Bigelow’s ninth feature is the manhunt on Osama Bin Laden, and the world knows he is dead. The film title is military speak for half past midnight—Osama’s alleged time of death. Popular misconceptions will have you believe that knowing how a story ends works against it; but this film operates outside political and social repertory. What it wants, is for you to savor the poignancy of the hunt.
Set two years after 9/11 attacks and told from a predator’s (the US) perspective, it starts on the strength of CIA operative Dan (Jason Clarke). Stationed at a black site somewhere in Pakistan, he interrogates a detainee connected to Saudi terrorists using brazen techniques. At this point, you may be tempted to write the sequence off as propaganda by torture apologists, but don’t be too quick—Dan is a red herring—a vehicle at best for the sole intention of designing cause-effect to the outcome of Zero Dark Thirty’s key narrative.
New agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) is assigned to the team and Dan guides her transition in this highly elusive, volatile world. Like a cold and calculating chess-master, Maya quickly learns how to exploit variables of the game. She thrives on psychological warfare required of interrogators, yet cranks to the right rhythm necessary to benefit from a politically oriented trade. Throughout the chain of events leading up to Osama’s death; Maya is often photographed behind barriers, suggesting the distance necessary for her to guard against and self-protect.
This is when it occurred to me that something strange is happening to Bigelow as a director—she has emerged from The Hurt Locker with a style that is distinct, yet subtle. In the classical paradigm of historical-war films often infused with dramatic muscularity; Bigelow has forsaken traditional myths, and engineered a new kind of modern, masculine instinct.
Zero Dark Thirty is set in the thick of a chase spanning ten years, but it moves fluidly with unknowable force — driving you forward into a riveting climax executed with precision, and realistic memesis.
Apart from a screenplay by Mark Boal that reveals masterful technique, film score by Alexandre Desplat (performed by London Symphony Orchestra) evokes the right emotional currents critical to this film. Its musical motifs parallel the aura surrounding Zero Dark Thirty’s mysterious protagonist—melodies are sophisticated and stoic, with an undertone of sensuality.