Unless you have been under a rock for the last 12 years you will know the story of the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11/01, Al Qaeda, the “War on Terror” and the attack on a Pakistani compound in 2011 that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden; a poster boy for global Islamic Extremism. If you didn’t know any of this…spoiler alert, because that is what Zero Dark Thirty is about; all 157 minutes of it.
First off, bravo Kathryn Bigelow. Thank you for not prologuing your movie with the footage of 9/11 we’ve all endured since 2001. The tone set in this movie is one of complete objectivity; a fact that may lose some of the audience as, sometimes, the pacing is almost as arduous as the hunt for Bin Laden himself. Instead, the intro delivers a black screen with an audio snippet from an emergency call on the day of the attacks. There is no stars and stripes, no red white and blue. It’s just a black screen and crackly audio serving as a small reminder that the events on that day in September are the reason we are watching this feature film 12 years later.
Stylistically Bigelow deploys her favoured handheld camera during key scenes of action and dialogue. This creates a visceral, almost fly-on-the-wall documentary aesthetic, which could have been problematic if Bigelow had an agenda (she doesn’t). There have been calls certain scenes verge on the glorification of torture, however I didn’t feel this at all. The treatment is physically and mentally brutal but the movie never dwells on the pain inflicted, and we are not on the side of the interrogators.
The movie is littered with great performers, however Jessica Chastain steals the show. Her character is an allegory for the search for Osama Bin Laden and the mental anguish suffered by many people across the globe. She becomes consumed by her mission and relies on luck as well as skill to achieve her goal; to find and kill Bin Laden. In the process we see all of the key points of the War on Terror and indirect attacks as a result; 7/7 bombings on the London transport system are shown, which were very close to home.
Zero Dark Thirty won an Academy Award for Sound Editing, however I think it should have also won for Film Editing instead of Argo. Somehow every conversation – and there are a LOT of conversations – is interesting to watch. The amount of different camera angles cut together kept everything flowing exceptionally well.
The final scene deals with the attack on Bin Laden’s compound. While the filmmakers could have taken a Die Hard-style, balls-out action style, this wouldn’t have been realistic. It’s actually a very quiet scene when you consider the subject matter. There is sporadic shouting and some rounds being fired, but it’s grippingly quiet.
The strange thing about Zero Dark Thirty is that it deals with a narrative that we have all been living for the past decade yet it is still interesting. We’ve all seen the documentaries, read the news articles and blog posts, and 9/11 has almost certainly informed my upbringing (especially living in London). It’s testament to Bigelow’s style that she has constructed a movie that is still compelling, despite being heavy on dialogue and plot points we already know. It’s won’t be for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty.
And no, it’s not just an extended episode of Homeland.