The Oscar winning team behind The Hurt Locker, writer-director Kathryn Bigelow and writer-producer Mark Boal, have come together once again on Zero Dark Thirty, a tense, nuanced take on the action genre that raises important questions while it holds the audience in suspense.
Zero Dark Thirty follows a zealous young CIA agent, Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she joins the hunt for Osama Bin Laden; a mission that will take a decade to complete. In Pakistan, she learns about interrogation from a brutal colleague, in scenes that have roused up no small amount of controversy around the film. We know very little about Maya in terms of a backstory or relationships outside of her work; she is obsessed with the task at hand and is good at her job, although a series of mistakes and attacks on the CIA will make the mission a lengthy one. There are moments in the film where it feels as if the inevitable climactic capture of Bin Laden is an impossibility, and when the scene does come it packs forceful suspense despite the audience’s awareness of what’s to come.
Zero Dark Thirty feels very much like a companion piece to The Hurt Locker. Like Bigelow’s previous film, it examines characters who are fixated on their job, and who will go to any lengths to achieve a goal. For that reason it raises several interesting ethical questions, largely around torture and its use in foreign policy. There are no easy answers, and so the film offers none. It does offer some powerful acting, particularly from Jessica Chastain, who gives one of the strongest performances of the year, and who’s Oscar nomination for the film was entirely deserved. Like The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty is gritty, uncomfortable and unpleasant at times; it doesn’t shy away from the realities of war, or gloss over the long process to the eventual killing of Bin Laden. It is an action film for people who aren’t usually interested in action films, and a fine one at that.