ZERO DARK THIRTY (Kathryn Bigelow, 2013)
A man is being tortured in a CIA black site in Pakistan to obtain information about the 9/11 bombing. Present in the room is rookie officer Maya (Jessica Chastain), bearing witness to the man's horrible ordeal. You'd be quick to assume the film sanitizes and condones torture as means to an end, yet filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow does not underline her stand on torture as means of interrogation with self-righteousness, or provocation. As far as I'm concerned, the story just presented what went on during the time. A nation was attacked and it retaliated, by any means necessary. It doesn't mean it is right, but by presenting it we are asked the question whether it was necessary, hence whatever your opinion on torture is reserved and noted.
With it, ZERO DARK THIRTY engages us in a decade-long search for the infamous Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Filled with suspense at every turn and inspired performances, especially from its lead star Jessica Chastain, for a fat two and a half hours we get to sit during mission briefs, field surveillance, political clashes, failed operations, and the big finale- the assault on the fortress in the middle of Pakistan. For a mission so covert that everyone was shocked when news broke out that Bin Laden has been killed at a mission sanctioned by the White House (I remember my disbelief at the time), ZERO DARK THIRTY is an intelligent film that is focused, unrelenting and knows what it wants. As Americans retelling the side of America during the war on terror, screenwriter Mark Boal and Bigelow addresses the strengths and weaknesses of the efforts against Al Qaeda, and includes mistakes that were made in the process.
Chastain is electrifying as Maya, with balls the size of Texas and conviction as unshakable as concrete. Antisocial and anti-authority, Maya is the perfect deconstruction of the protagonist. Imperfect, yes. Human, yes. Ruthless, yes. Male, you wish. It's Kathryn Bigelow in cinematic form!
One characteristic you'll surely use to describe Maya is annoying. If you are her superior, you'll likely curse her in your sleep. If you are Al Qaeda you'll quickly switch sides (okay that's an exaggeration). If you are her male coworker, chances are the feeling is that you just had your balls removed. "I'm the motherfucker who found this place!" he tells James Gandolfini who plays CIA Director Leon Panetta. It's a film loaded with so much testosterone, and the one responsible for the tension is a woman.
You'd remember Jeremy Renner's character in THE HURT LOCKER as anti-authority as well. Bigelow has a penchant for such characters, it seems. I remember the same from K-19 and POINT BREAK.
Bigelow's greatest asset as a director is knowing how and when to build up tension. Every scene in her movie is a possible time bomb, but she lays it out neatly, leaving the finale as the cherry on top. Bigelow pulled no punches in ZERO DARK THIRTY. It is as violent and radical as it can get. It says it is fact-based, but we can never really tell how accurate because the source materials are classified, although the film is as brave as anyone can wish for.
What does the film say in its entirety? The subject of torture is a gray area, but whatever your opinion, it happened. I guess at any given situation, you do what you can with what you have. It's just depressing to see the Americans have so much gadgetry and financial backing for such large scale operations. We can only hope to have that kind of resources at our disposal. We are at a country where choppers used by the armed forces are second hand, and ammunition are second rate.