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Zero Dark Thirty - Review

Zero Dark Thirty

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

KATHRYN Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty may be one of the most controversial movies of the year but it’s also one of the best and most unmissable.

The story of how America hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden is a tour-de-force piece of filmmaking that refuses to pull its punches in depicting the tireless efforts and often brutal tactics of those involved.

Opening with blacked out sound recordings of the final messages of those trapped inside the Twin Towers on 9/11, the film then chronicles the key moments in the ensuing hunt for bin Laden, focusing in particular on the efforts of CIA analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain).

It does show how torture was used to inform the early years of the hunt and is unflinching in its depiction of it. But it doesn’t glorify or condone its use and subsequent criticisms of it by certain US senators (and now actors) seems reactionary and knee-jerk.

The film does state that this is a fictionalised account but one that has been informed by the extensive research of former journalist turned screenwriter Mark Boal and one that has been put together with the benefit of the CIA’s co-operation (now the subject of a US investigation).

It heightens the authenticity of the piece, elevating it to almost documentary-style levels at times. But Bigelow also keeps things filmic so that it demands to be seen on the big screen.

As a result there are several key moments that are incredibly tense, as well as those quieter, more intimate asides where the cost – both emotional and ethical – is etched across each character’s face.

Performance-wise, Chastain is great (enhancing her fast growing reputation), imbuing her Maya with early uncertainty but gritty determination and truly growing into her role as bin Laden’s chief pursuer… a fiercely resolute woman amongst men who had to fight her corner at almost every turn and whose singular vision became obsessive.

But there’s excellent support, too, from a quality ensemble that includes Jason Clarke (superb as both a chilling interrogator and charismatic colleague), Mark Strong, Jennifer Ehle, James Gandolfini and Kyle Chandler as officials and colleagues.

Boal’s dialogue is astute and to the point but never dumbed down (so stay alert) or gung-ho or jingoistic. And Bigelow’s depiction of the actual assault on bin Laden’s complex in Pakistan is done with cold, ruthless efficiency. It is a virtuoso sequence that chills by virtue of its calculated cold-bloodedness (an act which, in itself, flies in the face of the democratic freedoms the US extols but which is very much a by-product of the post 9/11 world and the evolution of the war against terror).

Bigelow, to her immense credit, conveys all of this without having to hammer her point home.

This is a film that is refreshingly complex and utterly compelling… intelligent filmmaking at its very best and essential for anyone who has their finger on the pulse of current world events.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 157mins
UK Release Date: January 25, 2013