Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

I love the storytelling and directorial subtleties of Kathryn Bigelow in her concerted effort to explore the folly of war and violence in the name of patriotism. In the end of the film Maya stands in the belly of a massive jet that is ready to carry her home, and she’s lavished with praise by the pilot who insists she can sit anywhere. Maya sits at the very end of the massive passenger wagon out of ear shot from the soldier. When asked where Maya wants to go, we see the fallout from the raid on Bin Laden once and for all. What was it all for? And in the end, did we really manage to gain something of ourselves back when we finally eliminated Osama Bin Laden? Or did Osama really win when he brought down the towers, destroying our very identities? “Zero Dark Thirty” is a very thoughtful and objective look at the events that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden. And for folks convinced Bigelow would stage a rah rah America film are wrong in their assertions.

The individuals focused on in “Zero Dark Thirty” are all flawed and mortal human beings with a mission that is not easy nor is it fun. Maya has devoted a good decade of her life obsessed with finding and bringing down Osama Bin Laden as a super power, and has literally stopped at nothing to ensure his downfall. In the first grueling twenty minutes of the film, she even sits and watches a bout of torture ensue just so she can snag a small nugget of information that can lead her to Bin Laden. The film is very easy not to give too much away about Maya.

We only know that she is a master of disguises, lives her life in costume and wigs, and is smarter than most people would assume. Throughout the film she’s dominated by the presences of men, and has to convince literally everyone that she is correct in her assertion that Osama Bin Laden is hiding in his wide open fortress with a large family surrounding him. If she’s not sure, she could risk losing her career, and likely cause a horrible national incident. But so certain is she, she provides her CIA Director with a moment of rude candor that could perceived as disrespectful. But she’s never reprimanded because she’s just that good.  The men around her act on orders and procedure, while Maya is more a big picture thinker who had the know how to bring down a ruthless terrorist.

Maya is a woman of vague detail through out the duration of “Zero Dark Thirty.” Truth be told, we can never be sure if red is her actual hair color. We can’t even be sure if Jessica Chastain even remotely resembles the actual woman named Maya. But the point is that Maya is a woman who lives by so many names and costumes that by the end of the movie even she doesn’t know herself. And she’s so struck with disbelief at her accomplishment, she forgot to acquire that little thing we call a life. Chastain gives a ballsy and commanding performance as Maya who spends most of her time on the phone making demands and begging people to comply with her plans, and when things go awry she is never afraid to lash out.

Chastain is marvelous and surrounds herself with excellent performers including Jason Clarke as a ruthless interrogator, Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton respectively, and Kyle Chandler, a consistently wonderful presence who spends most of the seething with Maya over her constructed plan to invade the fortress. “Zero Dark Thirty” is an intelligent and elaborate look at a crucial event that continues to spark debate and controversy among many conscious historical observers, and Kathryn Bigelow tops herself as a storyteller and director. A thoughtful and very cold action thriller that paints the raid on Osama Bin Laden as a trouble gray zone filled with varying degrees of doubts and fears, “Zero Dark Thirty” is an exhilarating and compelling historical document worthy of praise.


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