An event eleven years in the making, the hunt for one of the world's most sought after men. Kathryn Bigelow, relatively fresh after her run with The Hurt Locker, was the most qualified director to take this material and go.
Immediately the stakes of the film are ratcheted sky-high. Audio feed from phone calls on the morning of 9/11 are played against a black screen. The next sequence feeds off of that grief. Dan (Jason Clarke) and Maya (Jessica Chastain) are introduced during an interrogation of a terrorist, this interrogation will feature torture.
Zero Dark Thirty right now is being defined on terms of whether or not it defends torture. This stance is an unfair one as Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal don't take a side on the issue one way or another. It is covered in an ambivalent manner. Just because something is shown in an unflinching manner does not make it complicit with what is happening onscreen. Morality has evolved in a post 9/11 world, and so have the tools.
Hunting one man across the globe requires a certain mindset, a drive that borders on the obsessive. Maya (Jessica Chastain) possesses such a mindset. Throughout the ten year period that it takes she loses sleep, loses friends, alienates co-workers; Maya does anything she has to to bag Bin Laden.
The lifespan of a CIA analyst is not a lengthy one. The job burns you out and you can either choose to retire, transfer to Washington, or stare down hostiles with rifles aimed at your head.
It would have been all too easy for Maya to give up, but she didn't and that is why she is the focus of Zero Dark Thirty. She has the killer instinct. Jessica Chastain has been climbing her way up the A-list of Hollywood the last three years with The Help, Tree of Life, Take Shelter, etc., but here is where she makes her mark.
It is a shame that Kathryn Bigelow didn't receive another Best Director nomination for her work in ZD30, in a lot of ways she is working with more complex material than The Hurt Locker and accomplishes greater things. Kudos also go to cinematographer Greg Frasier for capturing the order of the chaos during the raid. In a scene that could have way too easily been jumbled hand-cam, the audience is treated to a first class operation handled by professionals in front of and behind the lens.
In the midst of the last thirty minutes of the film, a slowly building sense of tension creeps out from the screen and lures audience members to lean forward. The final op to take down the man who caused so much pain for so many years is a cathartic one. One handled with a tasteful grace.
***1/2 out of ****