‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Review: Behind-the-scenes bravery

Zero Dark Thirty is a thrilling take on one character’s long and arduous process toward the discovery and killing of the al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011. It offers action, suspense, and a great deal of catharsis for the audience, making it truly a unique experience. However, some political issues may detract the critically acclaimed film’s ability to take top honors with audience members.

Zero Dark Thirty follows CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) on her decade-long journey to find the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, beginning with the tortuous interrogations alongside her coworker, Dan, memorably played by Jason Clarke. She is a woman who will stop at nothing to achieve her life’s goal, and Chastain plays the character with such an unyielding manner that she gives you chills. Nevertheless, despite no inklings of a social life or history outside of her mission, Maya comes across as complex and feminine enough a character to differentiate herself from the men of the CIA, creating a fierce protagonist one does not get enough of in cinema today.

Photo: Jessica Chastain, Columbia Pictures

Photo: Jessica Chastain, Columbia Pictures

Controversy surrounding a film isn’t always a bad thing, as issues brought up in the arts can sometimes instigate poignant conversation. Nevertheless, Zero Dark Thirty falls victim to negative publicity on the scenes depicting brutal interrogation tactics used by the United States on prisoners in the Middle East, which may deter some audiences from enjoying the film as a whole. However, these scenes serve more as a contribution to the main character’s arc than any commentary on torture; they show the ruthlessness and desperation of these characters in their pursuit of justice, instead of forcing an idea upon the audience one way or another.

As the supporting characters revolve in and out of Maya’s life (with excellent performances by Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong and Jennifer Ehle), the story stays focused on Maya’s actions and thought process up until she is convinced with 100% certainty of bin Laden’s location. This is where the film finally separates the audience from her character and lets the U.S. Navy SEAL team get the spotlight.

The film can be lengthy, detailed and draining, much like Maya’s own journey, as each source is sought after and interrogated. However, there are enough surprises and tense scenes along the way to bring you back into the story and revive hope of the final target revealing himself. It’s quite the accomplishment that director Kathryn Bigelow is able to lace such suspense throughout a 157-minute movie when everyone knows the outcome.

Photo: Kyle Chandler, Columbia Pictures

Photo: Kyle Chandler, Columbia Pictures

There is no need to spoil exactly how the ending pans out, but there is a quiet catharsis the audience is able to experience along with Maya that after ten long years, her life’s work has finally amounted to something – a result of years of suffering in fear, anger, and perseverance. It’s interesting to see her reaction after all is said and done, and Chastain earns every bit of her Oscar nomination.

Despite having any preconceived notions of Zero Dark Thirty‘s supposed partisanship or its depiction of torture, it is safe to say that the film succeeds in telling a human story about determination and courage in a unique time in our country’s recent history (and its ongoing threats). Bigelow definitely gets you thinking about your feelings on the film’s subject matter once the credits roll, which is always a welcome experience upon leaving the movie theater.

Zero Dark Thirty Grade: A-

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