Review: Zero Dark Thirty
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Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
The Indian Express rating: ***1/2
The title of this film is spy talk for half past midnight, the time Osama Bin Laden was killed. There may be another reason the team of director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal picked this name -- it rings of a certain incompleteness, of an unpleasant pause.
Cut through all the talk about whether this film justifies torture or not, and why they went with a woman in the central role, and this is what Bigelow and Boal aim for. That the "war on terror" isn't covered in glory -- for either side. That the battle is long, hard and, most of the times, excruciatingly mundane. And that it's doubtful what killing Osama achieved, apart from the symbolism of it.
Do Bigelow and Boal succeed? Largely yes, but through a film that bleaches almost all the drama out in its devotion to details. As names are picked up, filed, analysed and sifted through data, Zero Dark Thirty feels too self-centred to bother with telling a story. Its characters talk to each other rather than to us, and that doesn't work when we already know the broad contours of where the conversation is going.
The central of those characters is a woman who goes by just the name Maya (a determined Chastain), a freshly recruited agent, considered a "killer" by Washington, sent to the hottest post in the world, Islamabad, after 9/11. While Zero Dark Thirty is the story of 'The Greatest Manhunt in History', it is for some reason told almost entirely from the viewpoint of Maya.
Not only is it half a viewpoint, it is not a convincing half either. Maya indignantly tells her boss in the film: "You don't understand Pakistan... you don't know al-Qaeda." Well, does she? You have to take her word for it, for we don't get a glimpse of this anywhere apart from her pouring over mountains of data on computers.