Film: Zero Dark Thirty
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton James Gandolfini Kyle Chandler
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Zero Dark Thirty sees CIA agent Maya (Chastain) shuttle between the American embassy in Pakistan and various 'black sites' in West Asia. Why? It seems that her raison d'etre is to find threads on the frayed web of terrorist Osama bin Laden in the hope that the mastermind's former associates can lead her closer to the al-Qaeda founder himself.
Zero Dark Thirty is a well-made film in terms of production values. But apart from portraying the single-minded zeal of a CIA woman for the head of the perpetrator of one of the most horrific terror attacks in US history, the script offers little by way of subtext or commentary.
Zero Dark Thirty might be the most prominent vengeance-driven political drama since Spielberg's Munich, which delved on the Israeli government's brutal tit-for-tat measures against the Black September group after the massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics.
Unfortunately, this film's screenplay, written by journalist Mark Boal (who won an Oscar for The Hurt Locker, another collaboration with Bigelow), is not as suspenseful or captivating as the other.
True, and the seemingly impossible quest to hunt down bin Laden, given his storied elusiveness and untold wealth, offers a sizeable challenge to the Americans, but Maya's pathological absence of self-doubt makes everything all right in the end.
Chastain displays range, as a performer. Her character's tenacity and firmness (by admission to CIA Director Leon Panetta (a suave Gandolfini) her 12-year-long career in the intelligence agency, she did nothing else but trial bin Laden.) contrasts the gentle nurturer image that one comes to associate her with after watching Tree of Life.
While it may not be the film's job to break the East–West dichotomy, it is made to appear that while the United States is justified in rashly exacting its 'righteous retribution'. This reviewer isn't a bleeding heart liberal but it seems wrong to lionise men unblinkingly who pump lead into unarmed men and women (yes, the mentioned victims were in cahoots with Bin Laden, but does that justify all the machismo worship directed to the Navy Seals that seems comes right out of Bigelow's dumb-but-fun action flick Point Break)
As to the use of headline-making torture scenes in the film, where the extraction of crucial information is brought about by methods that balk at international protocol, the narrative unceremoniously skirts the issue, only highlighting the already-known paradigm shift brought about in the rules of engagement in the United States war on terror.
When confronted with the moral ambiguities of their deeds, the CIA men swallow back the bile and bring out the dog leashes. Going back to Munich, remember how the protagonist's politically motivated deeds made him reexamine his own moral fabric? Not a whiff of that here.
So ultimately, were the characters's actions a subtle invitation from Bigelow to get the audience to be revolted on the characters' behalf or ask 'was it all worth it after all'? Your guess will be as good as mine.