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Zero Dark Thirty

February 28, 2014

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Actors: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle

Zero-Dark-Thirty_10-chas-300x217.jpg (300×217)

Synopsis: Maya Lambert (Jessica Chastain) is a CIA operative embroiled in a decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. This takes her from interrogating suspects in Saudi Arabia, and ground-level operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to top-level meetings in Langley. Ultimately, a lead on a courier seems to suggest a potential location for bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan….

Review: Zero Dark Thirty employs a curious, but in retrospect, rather admirable angle into its potentially combustible ‘hunt for bin Laden’ subject matter. Though some kneejerk, leftist critics have sought to tar the film as one that unquestioningly valorises the technological and militaristic might of the US operation, I actually think Kathryn Bigelow has crafted a much more restrained, neutral, world-weary impression of the various American attempts (from torture, interrogation, surveillance, and the final hi-tech marine raid) to track down bin Laden.

Bigelow revels in the forensic, unrhetorical minutiae of each of her segments. And, in many ways, this mirrors her similarly chaste, reasonably depoliticised view of ground-level ops during the Iraq conflict, The Hurt Locker. The torture is much less sensationalist than say in Steve McQueen’s slavery polemic, 12 Years a Slave. It’s shown very three-dimensionally – the methods are undoubtedly harsh, but are utilised just the right side of irredeemable sadism, and the various players involved in the torture have inherently complex thought-processes – the American CIA operatives are jaded and somewhat humane, but desperate to get an intelligence breakthrough, and the captives are still cognisant enough to know the politics of when to cede information to the CIA (assuming they have it, of course).

The raid on bin Laden’s Pakistan hideout is thrilling conveyed without resorting to a stereotypical ‘shock and awe’ depiction, and the lure comes as much from knowing that this was a daring, chancy act that could easily have gone wrong politically (in terms of not throwing up bin Laden at all), and militarily (the marines were very much entering a potential ‘lion’s den’). Bigelow’s only marginal concession to narrative conventionality is in creating a heroic main figure, Jessica Chastain’s doughty CIA operative Maya Lambert, who embodies the integrity and determination of this search for bin Laden. Bigelow also mythologises the figure of bin Laden himself, acknowledging him as the US’ ultimate bogeyman, right from the opening image-free audio capturing of the events of 9/11, to when Maya solemnly opens up his body-bag to confirm his death. (February 2014)

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