Zero Dark Thirty (English)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt
First things first. Don’t go expecting a Hurt Locker from Kathryn Bigelow this time. Based on classified information gathered by the Oscar-winning director and her trusted screenwriter Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty is about the CIA’s search of Osama Bin Laden after 9/11 leading up to the American Navy Seal team operation in Abbottabad where Laden was allegedly killed.
Of course it is an American point of view but then we should expect it from a big Hollywood venture. It is unlike Hurt Locker which was more into the realm of independent cinema. The film seems morally neutral, but to their credit Boal and Bigelow have imbued the screenplay with enough questions about the war on terror.
They talk of a system where the officers on the ground are nothing more than pawns for the big boys sitting in Washington DC. What is right for one dispensation is unjustifiable for the other. They don’t shy away from sharing with us that torture is the rule of the game which is employed at times for purpose, at times for ego and at other simply for entertainment.
But it is not a documentary in black and white. You might not agree with Bigelow but you will like to visit the grey areas she unravels. Is it soft on torture? There is no clear answer.
It depends on how you engage with the film. If you see it as a quasi-journalistic procedural on the hunt for Laden, you might have issues with Boal’s point of view because torture is shown as a tool, a licence to eke out the “truth” and Bigelow has used actual photos of Laden and other members of Al Qaeda. In that sense it seems like an attempt at self-aggrandisement or an image changer with little nuance thrown in here and there.
However, if you follow it just as an unapologetic action thriller, which one feels should be the way, inspired by some real incidents, you can easily understand the cerebral manoeuvring that Bigelow has attempted. It is just a narrative device to make the idea easier to swallow by an audience craving for an action thriller with dollops of intellectual stimulation. And if somebody thinks that shaky handycam visuals give it a realistic touch, he is mistaken, for this style has already lost its novelty.
At the core it is the story of a tough female CIA officer, Maya (Jessica Chastain) posted in Pakistan. When her seniors feel Laden is in Tora Bora, she has a hunch that he is hiding somewhere near. While her trigger-happy colleagues want to smoke him out, she is eager to unlock the maze of couriers who take information to the Al Qaeda chief.
If Bigelow is the mastermind, it is Jessica Chastain who makes the hunt worth pursuing. Without her it would have become just another Hollywood super hero film.
Bigelow ensures that the camera captures all her moods and moves. When she lands in Pakistan, one gets an inkling that she is trying to be a male but her red-painted nails suggest otherwise. As she goes after the needle in the haystack, you get to understand that Maya is a full-bodied character. Sometimes she sounds pig-headed, sometimes she gives an impression that she is too big for her shoes, but all along she is absolutely convincing. She knows how to play the game on the man’s turf. For a long time she returns from the baseline but when Jessica comes to the net she is equally persuasive as she goes on to make macho a gender neutral term. She is very well supported by actors like Jason Clarke, Mark Strong and James Gandolfini who know how to dissolve in a character.
Watch it for Jessica, watch it if you like your dose of action has a share of academic discourse.