Director: Kathryn Bigelow Writer: Mark Boal Cast Members: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt Runtime: 14A Rating: 157 min
When a film is centered around fundamentally unpleasant issues such as torture or terrorism, it is important that there be something with which a viewer can connect. This feeling often comes in the form of a relationship with a character within the film. Although it offers a gritty, thought provoking portrayal of the search for a terrorist, Zero Dark Thirty lacks the humanism that should incite a viewer to feel as if they have an invested interest in the outcome.
C.I.A operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) spends an entire decade of her life in the sole pursuit of terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. During this time she is forced to come to terms with the questionable and often horrifying tactics used to extract information from detainees. Once she believes that she has discovered his hiding place, Maya must do everything in her power to convince others that she is indeed correct in her convictions. Although some events are based on fact, Maya and her story are fictionalized.
This work is an undoubtedly well crafted movie, yet I expected so much more from the director of 2010 Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker. Said film was stark and often disturbing, yet a human connection with the principal character kept an audience interested and engaged with his story. Jessica Chastain’s Maya displays strength and resolve, and not much else. Simply showing her uncomfortable reactions to viewing the torture of prisoners does not make her appear “human”, or allow the viewer to form a relationship with her. Since the film is anchored in this character, focusing on her fictional story as it appears within the frame of true events, it is imperative that we find her to be worthy of our interest. I did very much appreciate the final half hour of the film, which focused on the actual raid of Bin Laden’s compound by the Navy S.E.A.L Team 6. A glimpse was offered of the personalities of the individuals embarking on the mission before they actually began, so watching them perform their dangerous task provided an appropriately tense and suspenseful viewing experience.
Although this picture was nominated for Best Picture and Film Editing, it was ignored in the Best Director category, resulting in surprise and outrage by many who believe all three nominations to be necessary for a Best Picture win. The film’s best chance of a major award is in the Actress in a Leading Role category for Jessica Chastain. While I do believe that Chastain offered the best possible portrayal of this stoic, single-minded, and intense character, I cannot help but wish I could have been more involved with her. I do not mean to suggest that I needed to like the character of Maya; it would have been nice to at least care about her. Indeed, I found Jason Clarke’s portrayal of a brutal interrogator willing to use any method to extract information to be significantly more engaging and noteworthy.
The moral and political issues presented within Zero Dark Thirty are thought provoking, and the final half hour is gripping and intense. However, I believe this film would have benefited from what I refer to as “a human connection” with its main character that would have allowed engagement with the movie on a deeper level.