Warfare torture for both sides

Movies & Theatre


DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow

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Stationed in a covert base overseas, Jessica Chastain plays a member of the elite team of spies and military operatives who secretly devoted themselves to finding Osama Bin Laden in Columbia Pictures' electrifying new thriller directed by Kathryn Bigelow, ZERO DARK THIRTY.

CAST: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, and Édgar Ramírez


RUNNING TIME: 156 minutes

RATING: ****

Surprisingly un-gung-ho for a film about a military operation, Zero Dark Thirty is a cerebral exercise in suspense.

Although we know that the endgame is the capture of Osama bin Laden, which is a done deal, the film gives us the detail the tv cameras didn’t show and director Kathryn Bigelow keeps your attention riveted all the way.

This time around Bigelow concentrates on a female protagonist, using a script by the same man who wrote The Hurt Locker. Both films show the very human element of the war and conflates fact and fiction for the sake of filmic narrative.

The central character is an amalgamation of two real women and the torture sequences have garnered criticism for over-emphasising just exactly what was done at Gitmo in the name of truth, justice and the American way and muddying the issue around waterboarding.

The veracity of the torture scenes, though, are secondary to what the film says about who the American people want to be portrayed as. Hollywood, as that great purveyor of cultural imperialism, creates an image of the American people seen by the rest of the world in a way that news cameras do not stick in the global consciousness.

So, as much as everyone was horrified at the time when all the pictures came out about Guantanamo Bay and Bagram, now critics of the film get hot under the collar for showing the torture as real and critical to the gathering of information, but no one wants to talk about the morality and ethics of the CIA using torture to elicit information. The film skates on that side of the line of condoning the torture as necessary to gathering info.

It opens in 2003 as young CIA analyst Maya (Chastain) sits in on torture sessions where information is extracted about the plans of al-Qaeda. She is briefed with finding Bin Laden, which is what she spends the next 10 years doing.

We see the painstaking gathering of information as she sifts through interview tapes, sits in on meetings, plays hunches and tasks various operatives to chase up the minutest of leads.

The first few scenes are jargon- heavy and dense, but as the film progresses and more information comes to light the audience begins to understand more and more.

As Maya becomes more and more certain that her path is the right one, she finds herself beset by the moral ambiguity of her actions.

Chastain creates a driven character who has to cling to the central conceit that finding Bin Laden will justify the difficult and morally ambiguous decisions she makes. Her single-minded devotion is almost inhuman – certainly it is difficult for those around her to keep up – but it is also what the audience identifies with because this is her driving passion through which she expresses her humanity.

Above all, Bigelow shows the human, nasty side of war. For all that there are big themes at work and huge amounts of money being thrown at the problem, it is down to individuals to find the information and fight the fight.

We see the attrition of Maya’s colleagues and friends and while the torture scenes have ignited the ire of many, the reality was probably even more hectic than what is shown in the film.

The actual eventual operation – which took place at 30 minutes after midnight, hence the title – is a gritty set piece (filmed almost entirely in the sickly green light of night vision goggles) of Seals breaching a house filled with women and children and having to make split second decisions about whether or not to kill.

Again, it comes down to a person reacting in the heat of the moment, and only realising much later that he has killed the bogeyman, number one on everyone’s hit list.

If you liked… The Hurt Locker… you will like this.

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