I have to admit, I always feel partly responsible for Kathryn Bigelow’s success. The Boy Wonder and I decided, on a whim, to see a film called ‘The Hurt Locker’ in August 2009 despite knowing nothing about it. It blew our socks off! Six months later, ‘The Hurt Locker’ won big at the Oscars. This is the silly reason I feel so smug, I was ahead of the curve when it came to the former Mrs James Cameron’s film-making ability.
It was with excitement that we ventured out into the snow last night to see Ms Bigelow’s latest offering ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, based on the events leading to Osama bin Laden’s demise at the hands of American Navy Seals.
The very first ‘scene’ is a blank screen with audio of telephone calls and voicemails from victims of 9/11. It is utterly heartbreaking. By not showing the images we are all so familiar with, Bigelow has focused on the people involved and the human cost of this atrocity which is something she does again later in the film to great effect.
The story focuses on Maya (an amalgamation of two real-life female agents), a CIA operative who is assigned to Pakistan to investigate continuing Al Qaeda operations. The audience see Maya interrogating suspects, watching some gruesome torture and being shot at leaving her compound. This film never lets up on action, even scenes in offices capture the desperation of agents and the audience is always aware of the possibility that while trying to cut through bureaucracy, there could be more attacks.
The cinematography in this film is so intricate, it is used intelligently and really adds a lot to the film. The scene of two helicopters on their way to Abbottabad was incredible. Bigelow’s use of silence is effective, letting the audience take the impressive visuals in as well as giving them time to consider what they’re watching.
This film doesn’t make for the most comfortable viewing at times but why should it? I respect Kathryn Bigelow because she’s honest, she doesn’t sugar-coat things and she doesn’t paint America as an entirely innocent victim who then goes on to conquer the world by kicking ass. Bigelow allows the audience to have sympathy for some people who have been portrayed as 100% evil. She also shows the audience that the people regarded as heroes have their weaknesses. Bigelow understands and demonstrates the fact that nobody is all good or totally bad.
The siege at the Abbottabad compound appears in real-time and included a level of detail regarding the operation that I had never before considered. Despite the fact that several of the people in the building are linked to Bin Laden in some way, it is impossible to celebrate their death; they are shown as husbands and fathers as well as ‘bad guys’.
I have to admit that I thought Jessica Chastain’s performance was good but not as good as I expected. I don’t expect her to win the Best Actress Oscar. There was nothing wrong with her performance but I didn’t find it earth-shatteringly brilliant.
There were some characters I thought were annoying and could have been developed further but all in all, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ was an absolute corker.