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Zero Dark Thirty Hits With Precision But Not With Heart

zero dark thirty

Zero Dark 30 chronicles the 10 year man hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and running at almost 3 hours, it seemed insistent that it should take all ten years to tell the story, but maybe that is as it was intended, so that at the end of the film, you join the characters in wondering if this manhunt will ever end, will he not die so that you can go on with your life.

The movie is directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Hurt Locker, Point Break) and written by Mark Boal also of The Hurt Locker. Zero Dark Thirty shows the speed with which Hollywood now exploits major historical events, no longer waiting for the scabs to disappear before picking at the wounds. It is told through the eyes of Maya (played by Jessica Chastain), a CIA operative who is new to the job when the hunt for Bin Laden begins, as the personal losses rise, she becomes obsessed with finding him and she is relentless.

Zero Dark Thirty is has a docu-drama aesthetic which works very well in its favour. It focuses on the process of finding Bin Laden, the use of torture, the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of torture, the hours of painstaking sifting of intel, and the hours and hours of man power, and the billions of dollars spent to do so. The film infuses a decent amount of action, but not so much that it could be mistaken for an action flick, and it is generally a well-crafted story.

It has been lauded for presenting an a-political view of the hunt for Bin Laden, but this isn’t quite so. Its bald presentation of torture is impressive, yet the movie is careful in showing the deaths of innocent civilians and CIA intelligence operatives at the hands of suicide bombers, but it shies away from showing the growing pile of bodies resulting from the  American war on terror, but that’s about as surprising as getting wet by standing in the rain.

The movie invests Maya with a hugely personal stake in Bin Laden’s capture and it ends on that note. So, though the film had so successfully opened with it’s reference to the fatal felling of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, at the end of the film, there is no reference to the wider impact of Bin Laden’s death.

While I can admire the technical prowess that is invested in this film, it leaves me emotionally untouched. As much as I laud the unstereotypical portrayal of Maya, and I do recognize that Chastain does a fine job, the character, and the film, leave me unmoved. Zero Dark Thirty is a precise, well-made film. It is well written  and directed and boasts good performances, but it lacks heart and emotional gusto.