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Zero Dark Thirty

2013-02-18 10:42
 
zero dark thirty,jessica chastain
What it's about:

The decade-long manhunt for terrorist and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks Osama bin Laden, and the tireless investigation pursued by CIA analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain) which led to his discovery, is revealed.

What we thought:

In the immediate days following the catastrophic attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2011, US president George W Bush sought to allay the fears of a shocked and grieving nation, saying in his national address: "We will find those who did it. We will smoke them out of their holes."

What Maya, the CIA heroine at the centre of Kathryn Bigelow's meticulous historical thriller Zero Dark Thirty, sets out to prove is that not only is the idea that Bin Laden is able to control a complex underground operation and remain at the top of the Most Wanted list whilst living in a cave is not only an outdated idea, but one that has continually impeded all intelligence efforts to capture him.

It's a hard story told warts and all and fair amount in investment in the story is required from the audience.

But it's also a story which director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal had initially planned to tell of the unsuccessful decade-long manhunt for Bin Laden. That whole plan changed very dramatically on 2 May 2011 when a team Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 infiltrated a heavily secured urban compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

There are very few victories or light moments in Maya's quest as she constantly comes up against bureaucratic stonewalls to get her job done – but like a dog with a particularly coveted bone, Maya does not let up even as the leads run dry and she is faced with personal tragedy.

Bearing much of the brunt of Maya's doggedness is her boss, Pakistan bureau chief Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler) whom she accuses (and in turn the CIA's entire intelligence strategy in the Middle East) of complacency as the chances of actually capturing Bin Laden grow slimmer with each passing year.

The film opens with a black screen and audio of disturbing real-life 911 calls from stricken victims trapped inside the World Trade Centre after the planes struck, and then segues into a different kind of hell some years later as CIA enforcer (played by a commanding Jason Clarke) uses extreme force to extract information from an al-Qaeda link. Bigelow doesn't flinch from the brutality of the torture – as both a physical and psychological tool – and it is particularly unsettling to watch with the knowledge that it was freely used by the US government during this time.

One scene even has Maya discussing information culled from a tortured detainee with colleagues while a TV in the room dumbly broadcasts a Barack Obama interview in which he denies the use of torture in the US's terror war.

But for many South Africans who are familiar with intelligence tactics employed by the South African security police or read reports of what happened to struggle icons Steve Biko, Joseph Nduli, Cleopas Ndhlovu and Imam Abdullah Haron while in detention under apartheid, scenes of waterboarding and sleep deprivation will be uncomfortably familiar.

Maya has the grace to be sickened by these early torture displays until she becomes acclimatised to the status quo in Pakistan and learns to make it work for her. And ultimately it is her dedication to one slim lead that leads to her big kill.

And then comes the raid on Bin Laden's hideout itself – a thrilling, expertly filmed sequence that comes more than 2 hours into the film – and lasts just a few minutes shy of the actual Navy S.E.A.L. assault. It unfurls with an intoxicating and gut-wrenching display of military precision, even when things go horribly wrong – which they did – and even with the now-famous knowledge of what the outcome is.

As with 2009's superlative Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker, Bigelow excels at visceral, head-rush inducing filmmaking that still manages to find heart in the unlikeliest of scenarios. But unlike that film, Zero Dark Thirty suffers from being too hard-boiled and conscientious at times with few insights beyond the characters' tough outer shells. The ambivalence of this pragmatic, journalistic approach to the story is a tough sell for one that encompasses such incredible highs and lows - and is all the more commendable for it.

One can only stand by and appreciate the wealth of talent on display as they work their way through Boal's crisp, commanding script. Jessica Chastain, with her fine features and little-girl voice, is a force of nature in the role of Maya ("Washington says she's a killer," Chandler gruffly acknowledges when she first enters his life) while Jason Clarke's live-wire performance as CIA operative Dan is so magnetic and propulsive it deserves to be singled out.

And with worthy onscreen contributions from a diverse group of actors like James Gandolfini, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, Édgar Ramírez and Jennifer Ehle to feast on, Zero Dark Thirty never stops being utterly captivating.


Kathryn Bigelow once again shows her unflinching mettle in a hard-boiled but captivating chronicle of the decade-long manhunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

NEXT ON CHANNEL24X

A Most Wanted Man

2014-10-16 23:29

Add Your Review

(Comments may be edited or deleted at the Channel24 editors’ discretion)
Jackie 2/18/2013 10:02 AM
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Katheryn Bigelow makes consistenly good movies, I have been itching to see this one.
Die Buurman 2/18/2013 10:11 AM
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A real American propaganda movie....very poor acting and screen play. You would fall asleep halfway through the movie.
thabo 2/18/2013 10:48 AM
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hated this movie i give it a half star, poor movie indeed
S 2/18/2013 11:52 AM
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Gritty and realistic war drama, however fans of action movies - go look elsewhere. Another superb movie by Bigelow - big thumbs up!
Paul Mansfield 2/18/2013 11:55 AM
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Excellent Movie. If people fell aslepp they where definitly in the wrong movie. It was truthful, hard hitting and kept the adrenaline pumping. I fully concur with America's strategy.
nikki 2/18/2013 1:20 PM
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Boring, boring, boring!! Way too involved and political, dont recommend it at all!
Mystraw 2/18/2013 2:37 PM
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Superb movie,,,,loved the anticipation and flow of actions!! loved it
your friend 2/23/2013 9:08 AM
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must watch movie....one woman's war to get the world's infamous lonely terrorist.....Osama... ..documentary styled.....well paced.....if they missed this opportunity....the planet would have been ruled by terrorists.....lol
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