On Zero Dark Thirty


Zero Dark Thirty was released over two weeks ago now, but, somewhat guaranteed by Oscar buzz and pitiable controversy, still has audiences and those who have yet to see it talking.


We see the world through the eyes of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA agent working after September 11th 2001 with an intent to track Osama bin Laden’s location. One might interpret Maya as a cold, distant protagonist, leaving the film soulless where it direly needs a soul. To the contrary, that she dominates a presence in almost every scene and we barely see her when she isn’t working (come to think of it, we neverĀ see her not working in some formĀ toward that far-off of objectives) only places more emphasis on the tantalising clues of her former relationships, her parents and doomed friendships. Ultimately, she is cut off from everyone and knows no one; a 21st Century Harry Caul, if ever there was one… Bigelow’s masterstroke comes, quite inevitably, in the remarkable scene approaching – and entering – bin Laden’s fortress. For at least 20 minutes, the threat that television or video games pose on cinema dissipates: this is peerless action cinema, and the puppetmaster is Mr Dylan Tichenor, one of the most intriguing editors working in film today.

Au courant doesn’t begin to describe it. That such an impressive work has been turned around within two years of bin Laden’s death is unprecedented. The groans of a pro-torture motif are both bewildering (maybe because, as in some cases, those writing haven’t even seen the film) but crucially unconvincing. Though on this point, I have to agree with Alex Gibney that the wealth of misinformation retrieved from torture is quickly passed over in the film. But, doubling back once again, it’s hardly as if what the film needs is for Maya to look at the camera in an ‘all is lost!’ moment. Nobody reading this needs to be told thatĀ counterterrorism is the most important war Britain has involved itself in at least my brief lifetime, but you ought to see Zero Dark Thirty because few recent films have captured this incentive and face a mirror on history so soon after it has been recorded.

Zero Dark Thirty is directed by Kathryn Bigelow. It’s still showing until the 14th February at the Watershed.


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