FIlm Review: Zero Dark Thirty

This review was originally published on The Orange Post on Sunday 17th February 2013.

Kathryn Bigelow’s follow up to her Oscar winning The Hurt Locker begins with a black screen accompanied by recordings of real phone calls made by doomed workers trapped in the World Trade Centre in 2001. This disturbing moment sets the agenda for Zero Dark Thirty and for the next 150 minutes, the film, just like its protagonist, CIA analyst Maya, never loses sight of its target.

 Zero Dark Thirty is an almost perfect example of the procedural format of storytelling. Used widely in television in popular programs such as CSI, NCIS and Bones, as well as recent Oscar contender Lincoln, the procedural chronologically follows an event, usually a crime, through to its conclusion. In the case of Zero Dark Thirty, the original script was set to depict the unsuccessful decade-long efforts to hunt down Osama bin Laden. His actual capture and death in 2011 prompted Bigelow to change her film, ultimately into a much satisfying experience as far as I am concerned. Despite knowing what happens at the end, I was on the edge of my seat during the final sequences of the film.

Jessica Chastain, Oscar nominated for her performance here, plays Maya, a green CIA agent, fresh out of high school, whose sole mission over her brief career is to find “UBL”. Despite changing US Presidents, Governments and CIA bosses, each with different priorities and approaches to world politics, Maya clings to her scraps of evidence and information. Chastain appears in almost every scene in the film and delivers a powerful, magnetic performance that will win her the Best Actress Oscar.

Supporting her onscreen is an impressive quartet of US based Aussie actors. Callan Mulvey and brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton play three of the efficient Seal Team Six, who carry out the final mission in Pakistan. Jason Clarke (Lawless) is impressive as Dan, a CIA agent who will do anything to extract information from his captives.

Between Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln, it seems that every respected US male actor had a gig last year. Mark Strong (Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy) and Kyle Chandler (Super 8) head up the mega male heavy cast. Only Torchwood’s John Barrowman puzzled in a cameo that probably would only be noticed by Doctor Who fans.

Much ado has been made in the media of the portrayal of torture in the film. I must profess to being slightly naive in regards to this prior to my Zero Dark Thirty experience, having no idea what waterboarding meant. All I can say that it’s uncomfortable to watch but depicted onscreen with no political agenda whatsoever.

Zero Dark Thirty is a tense, cold film that will grip you right to the very end. With many scenes taking place at night, it begs to be experienced at the cinema. See it now. It is the finest film of the year so far.

Published in: on February 18, 2013 at 10:51  Leave a Comment  
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