In 2008, Director Kathryn Bigelow’s film “The Hurt Locker” took home six Oscars for presenting the very real, very brutal dark side of modern warfare. Made by the same decorated team, “Zero Dark Thirty” focuses on the men and women who work in the shadows instead of on the front lines. But it’s still every bit as gritty, not aimed to please crowds.
“Thirty” centers around Maya, a CIA analyst tasked with locating Osama bin Laden in the world’s greatest manhunt. The film covers those arduous years, and all of the twists and turns that influenced the eventual execution of bin Laden. The events depicted are not romanticized.
Relatively unknown actress Jessica Chastain plays Maya, and she does a superb job. The supporting cast is good enough, but Chastain performs as arguably the best female lead in years. Maya’s character (largely based off of a real CIA operative who is under scrutiny) undergoes a lot of change through the film’s events, and the process is both frightening and wonderful. The excellent characterization isn’t just part of the script though. Friends of the “real” Maya have described her film portrayal as accurate. Maya isn’t the movie’s only reflection of the real world.
Viewers should keep in mind that most of the people and events shown in “Thirty” are heavily grounded in reality (In fact, there is some controversy surrounding “Thirty” on the allegations of depicting classified material). For example, the film is largely concerned with the London public transit attacks, the Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing, the 2008 presidential election, and the foiled Times Square bombing. It echoes major events of the last decade, as well as a few of its “hot” topics; namely, torture.
“Thirty” depicts Americans torturing believed terrorist captives for information. It shows the horrors of it, and it shows the results of it. Several critics have apprehended “Thirty” for having a “pro-torture” stance, but I don’t believe this to be true. “Thirty” simply presents factual information about water-boarding and similar interrogation tactics. The film doesn’t take a stance on the issue; it just arms the viewer to make their own decision.
“Zero Dark Thirty” does a good job at storytelling. It’s not easy to truly engage the audience when they’ve already read every major plot point in the newspaper. No movie is perfect though. The first forty minutes of the film are extremely slow-going, and the very subject matter makes “Thirty” less impactful to non-Americans. However, any viewers that enjoyed “The Hurt Locker” will more than likely enjoy the familiar recipe of “Thirty”. Both films have been critically acclaimed, and both leave haunting thoughts in the viewer’s mind long after they leave the theater.