The movie Zero Dark Thirty opens on black: just sound, no picture. And we hear snatches of final telephonic conversations people had while they were trapped in the World Trade Center towers in the immediate aftermath of the attacks of 9/11.
And from there we are taken to a CIA ‘black site’ somewhere in the world where a known terrorist is being tortured (for information) by an American interrogator named Dan (Jason Clarke). Let’s just say that the steps Dan takes to extract information are not going to entertain you, or make you feel anything resembling joy.
A new operative (analyst, whatever you want to call her) has arrived in Pakistan and she is shown the ropes by Dan. This is Maya (Jessica Chastain), and she is the one who–in director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal’s version of the story–spearheads/is the central figure in the locating and killing of Osama Bin Laden.
The filmmakers jump along the timeline between Maya’s arrival in Pakistan and the eventual killing of Osama Bin Laden, stopping only to dramatize terrorist attacks (the bombing of a bus in London, the attack on the Marriott in Islamabad, you get the picture) and scenes of information gathering. There is some infighting, a little conflict with her boss, the Station Chief (Kyle Chandler), and a revolving door of name actors turning up to play bit parts in the greater story of “One Woman’s Relentless Pursuit of America’s Enemy Number One.”
Is the film reductive? I think so.
It is also long, tedious, and not for everyone.
Ms. Chastain’s performance is appropriately restrained and she is really the centre that this world spins around. The rest of the players don’t really make much of an impact and it becomes a bit of a drinking game to see if actors like Mark Strong and Joel Edgerton will be able to say their lines without slipping back into their native accents. When you are as unmoved by the movie as I was, it really is more fun to watch for accent slippage than for anything of value happening on screen.
Final Analysis: This is the type of film categorized as ‘important’. I’m not surprised (any more) that Ms. Bigelow did not win herself an Oscar nomiantion for this film.
My Advice: The only reason to sit through this movie would be if you were an Oscar nominations completist; or a person who likes to debate American Foreign Policy by watching a movie.
I am neither, so I just want my two-and-a-half hours back.