Zero Dark Thirty
A black screen with the words, “September 11, 2001” opens the film, and silence fills the theater for a few seconds. Sound bites, all of them recorded 911 calls, layer over each other as callers incredulously express that two planes have struck the Twin Towers. The frenzied noise draws to a climax as one final clip begins playing. This one is of a woman trapped in the World Trade Center. As it plays out her final moments, it leaves the stunned operator to only say, “Oh my God.”
These last moments set the tone for the entirety of Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, a spy thriller that chronicles the hunt for Osama Bin Laden from September 11, 2001 to Bin Laden’s death on May 2, 2011.
Although the film examines the darker side of United States involvement in the Middle East, exploring issues such as CIA torture techniques and other war atrocities, it still manages to be a gripping thriller. Leading actress Jessica Chastain gives a cold-as-steel performance as CIA agent Maya, the driving force behind the investigation that culminated in the death of Bin Laden.
It is perhaps her characterization that helps propel the film into such greatness, exploring her roles in both the interrogation room in addition to multiple attempts on her life. It is in the moments in which she does break down that truly spotlight her fantastic acting ability, transitioning from ice-cold agent to a broken human being after witnessing the deaths of multiple coworkers and friends over the course of her career.
It is an extraordinarily well-made film, sporting wonderful cinematography, pacing, and actors. Even so, no work addressing topics such as these are without controversy. The torture scenes that take place in the first 45-or-so minutes of the film are extremely graphic and present the practice as effective and even key in the Bin Laden investigation. This has led to multiple allegations of the film taking a pro-torture stance.
However, the gritty and gruesome scenes were necessary to tell the whole tale. Bigelow looked to tell the entire story of the chase, even if it included the CIA torture practices. The film itself was physically stressful to sit through, but it was captivating the entire way. For a film that addresses one of the most controversial manhunts in American history, Bigelow hit the mark with a film that both shocks and awes.