When I saw the previews for Zero Dark Thirty this holiday season, I admittedly wrote it off as another military style action movie that was more bullets than brains. In hindsight, I was way off of the mark. If anything can be said of Kathryn Bigelows second opus, its that you will leave the movie theatre thinking.
Fair warning, this film is not for the faint of heart.
Skipping the traditional title screen, Zero Dark Thirty opens with a day, a month and a year, which fades away to a black screen coupled with an unsettling audio collage of 911 calls. Immediately following this hook, the viewer is transported two years forward (the film will take you the full 10 years from 2001 to 2011 in, as they say, The Greatest Manhunt in History to a small, black cell in a CIA Black Site where you will meet the leading lady for the rest of the film. Jessica Chastain (The Help, 2011) puts her theatre background to good use in creating the quiet yet driven young C.I.A operative Maya, who is on her first day in Pakistan with fellow agent Dan, played by Jason Clarke (Lawless, 2012) and sitting in on her first interrogation.
One of the reasons this movie will forever be synonymous with the word controversial, is Bigelows portrayal of the C.I.As enhanced interrogation techniques that came to light towards the end of the Bush era. The first 25 minutes of Zero Dark Thirty is a gritty scene of what most would call torture, as a stony faced Dan questions, beats, humiliates, and yes, water boards a prisoner for information while Maya observes. The film takes a very nonpartisan, stating-the-facts approach to the scene, as if they are stating both sides of the major argument. Having just listened to the 911 calls, some people will undoubtedly sympathize with the agents, who approach the scene as soldiers following orders, and doing whatever it takes. These people will also hold with those who believe (as its no spoiler how the movie ends) that the tactics worked. But on the opposite side of the spectrum, the inhumane acts portrayed are more sickening than any chop-em-up horror film youve seen recently, and toward the end of the scene, the prisoner is clearly depicted as delirious.
In the end, the detainee in fact gives up information not under duress, but after being fed and cleverly lied to.
You will find it hard not to think of the scene for the rest of the film, and the topic will stay fresh, especially during a poignant scene where the agents watch a CNN report of President Obama saying on no uncertain terms that, America does not torture.
Needless to say, while the film takes no side in the argument it is inevitable that this scene will reignite the intense debate among its audience.
The film does a beautiful job of taking you from highpoint to highpoint along the eight-year course while still hitting home a central theme that it was meticulous desk work and data analysis that led to the finding of Public Enemy No. 1, and that he was killed more with a pen than a pair of night vision goggles.
As you watch Maya, struggle, hit dead ends, hit major breaks and became ever more reaffirmed in her chase, you cant help but empathize with the laborious task laid before her, not to mention the mammoth mental and emotional stress that she and the audience feels.
The storming of the now iconic white wall compound is masterfully done, without any of the corny action movie soundtrack or over dramatization. The scene is intense, made more so by the eerie green filter of night vision goggles, and even though everyone knows what is going to happen, down to the last detail even, the suspense is tangible. With an almost anticlimactic open epilogue, the film makes 2 hours and 37 minutes feel like 2 minutes.
For the first film to tackle issues like 9/11, waterboarding and torture, and the event/era/event that defined a decade and maybe a generation, Zero Dark Thirty will not disappoint. Given 100s out of 100s and A+s by the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly and the Hollywood Reviewer, as well as raving fan reviews, this movie is an unquestionable must see. From director Kathryn Bigelow and screen writer Mark Boal, the dream team that brought The Hurt Locker, this thriller is in my opinion the only thing standing between Les Miserables and the Best Picture Award, and its standing tall. While you enter theatre knowing that is fictionalized history, and almost docu-drama, I guarantee you will leave convinced it was real.