Gripping in its tense atmosphere and unyielding in its determination, “Zero Dark Thirty” is an intricately crafted, no-nonsense thriller that offers a stark depiction of our nation’s hunt for Osama bin Laden.
And for that, it deserves the highest respect.
I’m not going to lie to you. “Zero Dark Thirty” was, for many months, the film I dreaded most to see.
Everything I heard — controversial depiction of the use of torture, possibility of improper access to classified information, a Senate committee investigating the CIA — planted seeds of fear in my heart that grew bigger and bigger the more I kept seeing that three-word title. In other words, I became afraid of what the film’s lasting effects might have on my mind.
After having seen the film in its entirety, I can safely say I am grateful I summoned the courage to put my dread aside and see for myself if my worst fears were true.
Fortunately, they were disproven. However, this film is not for the faint of heart. As I came to understand, “Zero Dark Thirty” has many legitimate reasons as to why it should be regarded with respect.
Following the devastating tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States began a manhunt for Osama bin Laden, the founder and leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
After years of eluding detection, he was finally killed in May 2011 by a contingent of Navy SEALs, who were carrying out the CIA-planned operation.
Many citizens already know by now some of the basic non-classified facts about the raid that resulted in bin Laden’s death.
What we didn’t know for a long time, however, were the events that happened during the period between Sept. 11 and his demise. For the first time on the big screen, we get to see America’s decade-long search for the man who attacked us.
I applaud director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal for getting straight to the point and not wasting time on the unimportant details. The moment you see Jason Clarke resort to humiliation and waterboarding tactics to break a suspect while a silent Jessica Chastain observes the interrogation, it becomes clear you are witnessing a story of great gravity.
There are no attempts to glamorize the CIA’s efforts to learn what each potential al-Qaeda suspect knew about bin Laden, nor are the means we utilized to take him down presented in a black-and-white perspective.
It’s not just the interrogations to which you should pay attention; we are also asked to keep in mind the people who were either killed or nearly got killed while participating in this mission. In the end, “Zero Dark Thirty” asks the audience this question: what did we have to do in order to deliver the coup de grâce to the world’s most dangerous man?
The omnipresent tension in the film falls into the category of “you-know-what-will-happen-but-want-to-know-how-we-got-there.”
Complications that Chastain runs into — uncooperative superiors, false leads, her fellow co-workers’ deaths — raise the feeling of desperation to just the right amount each time as the film progresses in its depiction of the bin Laden manhunt.
Speaking of Chastain, her performance as a resilient yet vulnerable CIA operative named Maya is by far the poignant one in the entire film.
There is not a moment where her feelings about taking down the world’s most wanted man don’t coincide with our feelings about how he will eventually meet his fate. I wouldn’t be surprised if she wins an Academy Award for this role.
One of the more memorable scenes in the film is the climactic raid on the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan.
The nighttime setting imbues the scenario with an eerie quality; the SEALs’ movements are not unlike that of ghosts. Plus, the “night vision” appearance the camera wears as it follows the SEALs proceeding into the building helps to establish the idea that you are experiencing a recreated historical event, one that we knew was coming since the beginning.
Do I dare say that “Zero Dark Thirty” is a fine film? Yes. Is it worthy of respect? You bet your life, and not one you want to start an argument against.
MPAA rating: R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language.
Running time: 2 hours 37 minutes
Playing: Limited release; wide release Jan. 11