The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Zero Dark Thirty | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Zero Dark Thirty

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Ehle, Jason Clarke

Dramatization of the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

'Zero Dark Thirty' introduces us to Maya (Chastain), a young female CIA operative sent to Pakistan to join a team focused on hunting down the leaders of Al Qaeda. The interrogation of a prisoner accused of working with Saudi terrorists leads to the acquisition of an important lead, a man named Abu Ahmed who operates as a courier for bin Laden. Maya relentlessly investigates this lead for several years to the chagrin of her superiors who have gradually switched their focus away from the terrorist leader. Eventually, Ahmed is discovered in Pakistan, making regular deliveries to a sealed off compound which, Maya is convinced, houses bin Laden.
In bringing this story to the screen, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal faced two major dramatic issues. Firstly, everyone knows the ending, meaning the focus would have to be on the process rather than the conclusion. As one of the film's characters remarks, "we don't know what we don't know", so much of this process has been improvised by the film-makers. There's a "print the legend" approach taken to enhance the drama. For example, a bunch of CIA agents identify Ahmed's SUV yet somehow fail to take note of it's registration number. It may make things more dramatic but I doubt the CIA are too chuffed with their portrayal. The second issue concerns our tendency as viewers to cheer for the underdog. Detailing how the might of the world's most powerful military took out one man simply wouldn't work as a piece of drama. Cleverly, the focus is on Maya, the film's David pitted against the Goliath of CIA bureaucracy. The film isn't so much concerned with how the CIA killed bin Laden but rather how the persistence of a low level operative made such a thing happen.
Though a relative newcomer, Chastain already has a C.V replete with great performances. This is her crowning achievement so far and should be a safe bet for a Best Actress Oscar come February. Boal wisely gives the character little dialogue and provides no backstory (this is a real character of which very little is known), leaving Chastain to fill in the gaps visually. Many of her scenes feature her alone in empty offices, developing her character with facial expressions and looks rather than shouty dialogue. This could have been a very talky movie in weaker hands but Bigelow and Boal keep things largely visual.
Unfortunately, the film isn't without its problems. Several moments leave a bad taste in the mouth, in particular the manipulative opening which, rather insensitively, plays extracts from emergency phone calls made by those about to become victims of the World Trade Center collapse. Another shocking moment comes during the movie's compound assault climax, when a Navy Seal seems to brag about shooting an unarmed couple. Most of the casting is spot on but some roles are badly miscast. The appearances of Gandolfini, Duplass and Pratt all serve to pull you out of the story, none more so than the latter, playing the screen's most unlikely Navy Seal.
Were I American I may have gotten caught up more in 'Zero Dark Thirty'. Lacking that emotional investment I found it a well made yet troublesome picture with a sensational lead performance.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012) on IMDb 7.4/10

The Movie Waffler