Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Nominated: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Editing, Sound Editing
Zero Dark Thirty is another film that is quite difficult to watch because it’s based on real life events. Straight away you are reminded about the horrific events that set the whole chain of events in motion. The opening 5-10 minutes are simply a black screen with recordings from 9/11 playing over the top. From that you gather that it’s going to be a very tense film. 9/11 never really leaves you even if you weren’t there – just when it drops out of your consciousness something brings it back to forefront with startling clarity.
Jessica Chastain is excellent as the young CIA operative hell-bent on finding an elusive courier, convinced that he is the key to finding Bin Laden. She starts out as someone uncomfortable with her surroundings and the things taking place around her but hardens as the film progresses. She becomes more isolated as various attacks reduce her friendship base and throws herself into the search for Abu Ahmed with more and more fervor, having to fight against her boss for the facilities she requires to effectively carry put the task.
I’m not one of these people who is naive enough to think that the authorities managed to gather information without the use of torture (certainly in the early days before the detainee restrictions were out in place). There was no way radicals would have given up information lightly. It’s just something I never really gave much thought to but Zero Dark Thirty pushes it in your face. Right at the start you see detainees being water boarded which is extremely uncomfortable to watch. Yet having said that I like the fact that Bigelow did not shy away from portraying some of the less pleasant aspects of the search for the most wanted man on the planet.
Bigelow is a clever director covering horrific events in a tactful manner. We never see the attack on the World Trade Center, but then we don’t really need to as the images are burned into everyone’s minds, and therefore play instantly when listening to distress calls from that fateful day. She does a similar thing with the London bombings. We follow a double-decker and already you kind of know where this sequence is going, then the date flashes up and if you didn’t realize before you do now. But we don’t actually see the bus ripped apart at the seams. Bigelow waits for it to pass just behind a tree line then explodes, and all we see is the aftermath, using archive footage.
It’s a long film but then it covers a fairly lengthy time span and the somewhat fruitless search for Bin Laden all these past years. The tone of the film changes rapidly once the location is discovered and the tactical strike team is assembled. It becomes more frenzied and urgent. It even takes on an entirely different aesthetic born out of the realities of a night-time strike. Large portions of that section of the film are shot through the night vision goggles of the tact squad. The whole film leads up to events that we know actually took place and were of great importance in the ongoing battle against terrorism and yet the end is kind of anticlimactic. I think by that point we, like Chastain’s Maya, are just drained form the entire experience.