Like Kathryn Bigelow’s previous film, Hurt Locker; Zero Dark Thirty also goes by similar standards. Zero Dark Thirty shows the decade long man-hunt for the almost invisible Osama Bin Laden. The film takes us along the life of Maya (Jessica Chastain), the CIA operative, who takes up the challenge, fights along, and lives through the mission for almost 10 years, to capture the ultimate villain, mankind has ever witnessed.
The golden globe nominated Mark Boal script has sectioned the film into different chapters. This has actually made the movement of time in the film rather smooth. It touches through almost all the significant attacks and events connected with Al Qaeda-the 9/11, the Marriott Hotel attack, the London attack, the attack of CIA base Camp Chapman, etc.
The film opens with the title “September 11, 2001” in white, against a black background, as we hear radio/ telephonic conversations-news reports, warnings, people crying for help; indicative of the shear confusion and disaster that mankind was put to during the 9/11 attack. The film then cuts to “The Saudi Group”, the much debated torture scenes of the film.
To comment on these scenes which allegedly show CIA’s inhuman methodology or call it, war tactics, against terrorism; in the context of the film, these scenes are inevitable, and rightfully require the treatment given by BIgelow and Boal. Jason Clarke, who plays Dan (Maya’s superior), gives the film a strong and stern start with his performance.
The film moves in line with CIA operative Maya’s corporate life; a dedicated, determined and smart woman, who has sacrificed her personal life for her job. She gets assigned in Afghanistan, for her first mission, in which she is part of a team, trailing the ultimate super-villain. She witnesses her first interrogation with prisoners(the torturing scenes), gets a taste of the life in this part of the world through her colleagues, and gets to know what it means to protect her homeland ; thus her character keeps growing stronger and bolder as the story moves on.
The interrogations lead them to their first piece of valuable evidence, a contact named Abu Ahmed, who has worked among the high ranks of Al Qaeda, an immediate messenger for Osama Bin Laden. The film progresses with the search for Abu Ahmed, who is reported to have been killed by one of his captured colleagues. Eventually it is revealed that it was his brother who was killed, and not Abu Ahmed. The CIA tracks him down in Pakistan, by hacking in telephonic conversations and locates his hideout in a heavily walled compound in Abbottabad. Later on through satellite surveillance, CIA finds that the compound inhabits more than one family.
The last 30 minutes or so of the film is when they send in their U.S Navy SEAL team, to take out their target, after confirming Osama’s presence at the compound. These scenes are extra-ordinarily brilliant with POV-ish shots that put us right into the situation. The cinematography in these scenes is remarkable. The way in which cinematographer Greig Fraser, has handled these scenes in the dark with occasional torch light flashes and flash bangs, switching through night vision and intentional shaky shots can only be expressed as pure excellence.
“Possible Jackpot”. These words seal the mission and the film almost; and the film ends with the scene in which Maya sits on a flight specially arranged for her return to America. Zero Dark Thirty also features a strong line of supporting cast- Hollywood heavyweight James Gadolfini in his pompous role of the CIA chief, and character actor Mark Strong, playing a superior officer at the CIA, Joel Edgerton, who is part of the U.S Navy SEAL team, Emmy winner Kyle Chandler and Edgar Ramirez also doing a good job.
Zero Dark Thirty is a frontrunner for almost every award out there. Jessica Chastain, who was one of the top performers last year, is busy collecting awards this time. The film has already garnered accolades from Washington, Boston Critics, National Board of Review, AFI Film award, 4 Golden Globe nominations (unfortunately winning only one out of it), and has been nominated for 5 BAFTA and Oscar Awards each.
Zero Dark Thirty is a one of a kind film. It could fall into a category, say, espionage-documentary-ish thriller. Bigelow has maintained the same tone and style as her previous works, and has made a point by moulding a strong woman character such as ‘Maya’, like what Jessica Chastain said in her acceptance speech at the Globes. Though the CIA has openly stated the film as factually insignificant, this film deserves praise for at least dramatizing it then.