Zero Dark Thirty
- James Mottram
- 15 January 2013
A gripping, authentic-feeling account of the dark side of the war on terror from Kathryn Bigelow
If Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq-set bomb disposal unit drama The Hurt Locker caught everyone by surprise, the anticipation for her follow-up is tangible. An exacting procedural about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, it’s been in development long before the al-Qaeda leader and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks was caught and killed in a three-storey hideout in Pakistan in May 2011. Given this, there’s a tremendous urgency to Bigelow’s film, again written by her Hurt Locker scribe, former journalist Mark Boal.
Shot with a documentary-like rigour, what fascinates about Zero Dark Thirty – US military speak for 12.30am, the time the US Navy SEALs stormed bin Laden’s compound – is how it’s seen primarily through the eyes of one woman. Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a young CIA officer who is brought out to Pakistan in 2003 to focus solely on intelligence-gathering concerning the whereabouts and capture of their terrorist target.
Initially joining colleague Dan (Jason Clarke, excellent) at a covert black site to extract information from a detainee – she watches, shocked, as they subject him to psychological and physical tortures – it’s just the start of a long and complex journey for Maya, one that frequently hits dead-ends despite her tenacity. Resembling David Fincher’s Zodiac, in which a reporter obsessively tracked a phantom-like (but very real) serial killer, Bigelow never lets the trail go so cold that we lose interest.
Backed by able support – notably James Gandolfini as US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta – the superlative Chastain dominates, gradually going from a confident, fresh-faced rising star to a world-weary, life-sapped husk, drained by her pursuit in the shadows. You could easily read this as an account of Bigelow’s own rise in the male-dominated world of Hollywood. But, movie industry metaphors aside, Zero Dark Thirty is a gripping, authentic-feeling account of the dark side of the war on terror.
General release from Fri 25 Jan.