Zero Dark Thirty [Blu-Ray]

Kathryn Bigelow

BY Robert BellPublished Mar 22, 2013

Following the September 11th attacks, intelligence scrambled to evaluate the looming threat and determine where and when the next terrorist bombings or plane crashes might occur. Fear, confusion and cyclic thinking limited reaction to the known — known terrorist behaviours; known strategies for defence; and known tactics for extracting information. When Kathryn Bigelow's wholly intense and comprehensive breakdown of the resulting manhunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden opens, reluctant CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) is thrust into an existing situation, watching while senior colleague Dan (Jason Clarke) torture a suspect for information, waterboarding and humiliating him. Asserting, "I will break you," these traditionalist, rudimentary tactics are observed by a naive, but slightly more calculated Maya, who eventually spins the group dynamic in her favour, exploiting perspective and ego to obtain information from the prisoner without violence. Similarly, her disposition of intuition and lateral thinking allows her to step outside the existing vacuum of dwelling on pre-911 intelligence and terrorist behaviour, latching onto a suspected courier for Bin Laden, which takes her down a ten-year journey of single-minded obsession. In addition to the detailed research that went into creating a comprehensive mystery element to what is ostensibly public record, in a broad sense, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal inject a healthy dose of gender politics and observed distinctions about male/female dynamics and strategy in handling conflict and resolving problems. Where the men are concerned with image, rightness and the mundanity of daily career campaigning, using aggressive tactics to get their way when crossed, Maya's determination is free from image posturing or concern over how behaviour might factor into her professional future; she merely wants to capture Osama Bin Laden and has little patience for the endless red tape entangling her. Outside of this acute analysis of global conflict scenarios as construct of the male ego are an abundance of shocking, visceral scenarios in the field. Attacks on Maya's life and hotel bombings come out of nowhere, just as missions to get a visual on Bin Laden's courier live up to the highly kinetic style Bigelow is known for. It's not even noticeable on the narrative front that the final act raid on Bin Laden's compound was added at the end of production when real life changed the trajectory of Zero Dark Thirty as it was being filmed. The creation of the compound and the speculative designs of the stealth helicopters used are discussed in the Blu-Ray supplemental material, as are Chastain's approach to the material and the nature of making a decade-long, analyst-based movie out of an investigation. If any other director had tackled this material, it surely would have been a dry and factual foray into nationalist treacle. But under the leadership of Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), it's a comprehensive film that speaks about the nature of conflict and gender well beyond just this global incident, suggesting that working within the confines of known patterns and bureaucratic structures does little to help progress and betterment.

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