Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler, Taylor Kinney, Jennifer Ehle, James Gandolfini, Edgar Ramirez, Mark Duplass, Frank Grillo, Stephen Dillane, Harold Perrineau, Reda Kateb, Scott Adkins, Mark Valley, Ricky Sekhon and John Barrowman.
"I'm the motherfucker that found this place, sir!"
"I'm not that girl that fucks"
These are the two of the most memorable lines spoken by Maya, a CIA analyst who dedicates 12 years of her life in the decade long search to find Osama Bin Laden. Yes, it is the story of the history's greatest manhunt to capture or kill the most dangerous man. The al-Qaeda's leader was killed in 2011 at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALS who was found hiding in Abbotabad, Pakistan. Zero Dark Thirty is the best (American) movie of 2012 and a exceptional piece of filmmaking. Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal along with the actors are at the top of their game in this docudrama, fictional drama or whatever you want to call it. When it was first announced that Bigelow and her team were doing research on this topic earlier last year, i was one of those people who felt really confused with the idea of dramatizing an important historical/political event that just happened. They were given access to highly classified and top secret information. Bigelow and Boal were eyeing on making a Bin Laden movie long before he was captured and killed. They wanted to make one on the tora bora incident, a place where many believed he was hiding. It wasn't until his death that Bigelow had to skip that project and instead start working on this one. The information Boal got from his contacts regarding the previous unfinished project helped him a lot writing this movie too. I hate it how its been in debate (like many other things about this movie) whether or not this movie was a part of some agenda to help Obama win elections for the second time by reminding people of his part in capturing Bin Laden. Zero Dark Thirty dramatizes the developments that led to that, Obama isn't in the movie, its more of how CIA and other intelligence played a part in making it happen. That is their job, they did what they always do to protect their homeland from further notorious and deadly attacks and finish the man responsible for it. A man who was the center point of the group known as al-Qaeda, still active though but that is "war on terrorism" for you.
Zero Dark Thirty begins with a haunting and quite simply disturbing scene. Black screen and you hear different news channels covering the 9/11 attacks and also the phone calls that were made by the people in the World Trade Center to their families etc while it was all happening. That is a superb way to begin a movie that is going to unveil the factual/fictional events in a procedural/journalism type of movie. That beginning isn't for emotional purposes but its impact is very powerful which resonates throughout the movie. Bigelow also avoids some unnecessary sentiments throughout the movie to justify or remind us of why such and such things are happening or how its all "worth" it. After that opening, the movie cuts to an interrogation 2 years later being conducted by Dan (Clarke) and with him is Maya (Chastain) in an undisclosed location, some secret CIA place. The suspect is Ammar who is believed to be hiding some important information about a group and some individual who is a kind of messenger for Bin Laden. Dan looks like he's been in this for very long as he has a superb command on the interrogation process while Maya being new to this is seen a bit uncomfortable with the harsh treatment towards the captured suspect. I'll get to the infamous "pro-torture stance" later on but first let me talk about the important things. Maya is the central character in the movie, played by Jessica Chastain in a performance that is 100% awards/Oscar worthy and something that makes this movie impactful thanks to the little bit of emotional attachment or character development thing one needs in such cold and gritty depictions. Maya is someone who makes it happen, you can read the first quote i mentioned above, her steadfast, stubborn confidence is what actually makes it happen. Now that is a whole other question whether it really was a woman who made it happen. There are women working in even such hostile men-infested places as well. Here, she represents the state of mind of CIA, their duty and whatever they do or however they do it. She might not present one single person, she might as well do we wont know but her driving force is what really makes it all happen. This is a movie, a freaking fiction drama not a documentary. You never get pure non-fiction out of such important classified events, we will never know exactly how Bin Laden was captured and what techniques they used or who made it happen but this is as close as one get of painting a suitable, calculated, well thought picture of how things might have happened based on the few important and vital details the filmmakers were given.
Now the unbelievably awful way this movie is being brought down by the audience, people in the politics and even critics for its so called "pro-torture stance" is just whole lot of stupid. First of all, do we really think that torture and some specialized techniques in interrogation are never ever used in intelligence (specially when it involves capturing someone like Bin Laden)? Do i feel it is good to torture in order to get vital information one needs to protect their own country? the answer is no. Is it still important and necessary to do? the answer is yes. Do i wish torture never existed? yes. Why is it so hard for some people to accept the fact that such things no matter how ugly or barbaric they might be exists in the world? In Zero Dark Thirty, torture, water boarding etc isn't what "made it happen". Torture is one of the many things that leads them to gather the pieces of the complicated puzzle over the decade to finally bring it all together and finish it. It is one of the successful part of the search, it isn't the only thing that made them catch Bin Laden. It is one of the advanced techniques CIA uses in their interrogation process that most of the time leads them to truth but they never "completely" rely on it. There is always a chance of false information, no one can guarantee completely if the captured person from so and so terrorist organisation is going to spill out the truth because he is going to be beaten and tortured. The CIA realizes this and that there is always a chance that the information extracted can be both lie and truth at the same time design to lead the intelligence in a limbo as we see in this movie with the whole Abu-Ahmed identity thing that i wont spoil it out for you. And the torture scenes in the movie, which there are and for a few moments you wont be able to watch them but they aren't so grotesquely portrayed in the movie. You'll see them in the first half quarter or so of the movie only. So yes i don't think its a pro-torture movie and that Bigelow and Boal shows us is that its important nevertheless.
I don't think its a spoiler of any kind that in the end, they get Osama Bin Laden! Back when Argo was screened for limited audience, people couldn't shut up about the final 30 minutes. I don't think any other movie for as far as i can remember brings everything down to those final few minutes in a way this one does. Nothing can get more thrilling, chilling and unbearable than seeing the U.S Navy SEAL specialized helicopters slowly making their way to the target. I had my heart beating fast all the time. And when they finally reaches the compound where Bin Laden was hiding, Bigelow expertly creates an unbearable tension by shooting the raid scene with utmost perfection in real timing. It is dead quite, the music stops and it is just pin drop silence back there. Bigelow makes us a part of it by shooting most of the scenes in the green night-vision thing. Throughout the movie, Bigelow's direction is bold and stunning at the same time. She has a real command in making scenes of people sitting around talking or sitting around watching other people talk, speak to us. From the biggest action scenes to small interactions, she gives them a boldly human touch which is something not many of the filmmakers knows how to do appropriately. She is able to create a certain mood and style that makes the movie appealing and believable after a while. From the very first shot to a direct cut to an interrogation, she makes it make sense to us. The pacing for Zero Dark Thirty isn't fast of course but it is uber-tensed and quite jittery. The tension is created by revealing how the facts were revealed as well as this feeling of how dangerous everything is. The sense of paranoia if that is the appropriate word here, which is created through Maya's character immersing herself in the files, interrogations, videos and other things is what keeps your utmost interest and attention intact completely to the movie. One of the few times when the director and writer is able to create a world out of something as grand but as intimate as that is extremely masterful in my opinion.
As much as it is very interesting to see how Bin Laden was captured, one of the most interesting things about this movie is the character Maya. She is a woman in a man's profession, i wonder if she also represents Kathryn Bigelow herself starting out in Hollywood as a director of such hip, bold action movies. At first after watching the trailer of this movie, i thought Maya's character would exactly be like Carrie in the Showtime's "Homeland". But there is nothing personal about Maya here, she just wants to do her job and not get any attachments here while she is at it. Again referring to the second quote i mentioned at the beginning of my review, she a girl who wont fuck or fall in love with her colleagues. She is driven immensely to a point that her personal life doesn't seems to exist at all, her personal and professional life seems to merge into one another. She isn't distracted by anything nor is she someone who gives up hope. The many disappointments she faces, the many setbacks that happen in the search for Bin Laden, where everyone else easily gives up she says Hell No! Jessica Chastain is one hell of a glowing talent, she was able to completely sell out her numerous performances in 2011. That is exactly what she does here in the movie, she is a chameleon who can easily change her expressions, stature, emotions in split seconds. Maya just sits and watch the interrogation videos repeatedly stressing herself out in that hope that she'll get something out of it. Maya doesn't know how to sit still, she pushes people around her as she does herself. She wont even care if its her boss for that matter. One of the pivotal scenes in the movie is when she is arguing with her boss to do something she wants him to, threatening and even blackmailing him because she isn't someone who'll sit around doing nothing and see every single option die in front of her. Zero Dark Thirty ends with the same kind of haunting way it begins asking us where do we go from here? Was it all worth it? What now? As Maya is going back home (if there is such thing in her life) at the end after the successful operation, she isn't able to answer the question. She stares and then breaks down into tears. Maya spend literally her entire life tracking down Bin Laden and now she has no idea what she'll do or how she'll do it.
Zero Dark Thirty is the best movie on the war on terror i have seen, it presents that in the light of our conflicting moral ambiguities regarding this topic. One of the most outstanding, perfectly crafted procedural/manhunt movies i have ever seen. It strips down every single thing, gives us an idea of how things work and sheds some light on how the world looks like from there. This is also the best kind of a thriller that i have seen all this year, a perfect blend of nail-biting, spine chilling suspense as well as heart stopping and pulse stopping terror. Bigelow is successful in making a universal movie without applying her own thoughts about politics etc. She completely detaches herself from it in a way. Her visceral filmmaking style never gets tiresome throughout the movie, she doesn't just throws things at you but also lets you breath once in a while not opting for sensational filmmaking but effective closer to reality approach of an important subject that comes off both educational, entertaining and believable. Zero Dark Thirty is a modern American masterpiece from the very start till the very end. The way it leaves you feeling is just spellbinding, there are a lot of things that you take from this movie. Kathryn Bigelow created what looks like her career best movie which is both universal and extremely personal at the same time. The cast of this movie beside Chastain also delivers good performances. Jason Clarke is a real revelation, his most impactful and brilliantly portrayed role so far. His first impression is that of a man-animal but slowly he is able to create a more deepened impression about his character. There is Jennifer Ehle who is very much present and convincing in her role. Other performers that lights up this movie are Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, James Gandolfini, Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton. Alexander Desplat's score is used perfectly in this movie, it never overpowers anything and the effect of it is quite impactful in a more subtle and profound way. If i had to choose a score of his this year beside Moonrise Kingdom, it will be for this movie. It also has perfect cinematography, sound and above all, exceptional editing.