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Zero Dark Thirty’

William Neal | Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In the midst of Oscar season, I spent my winter break catching up on all of the highly acclaimed films of the past two months. Without question, this has been an outstanding year for film as every movie I saw, whether it was “Life of Pi,” “Les Misérables” or “Argo,” I was convinced that not another film could top it. 

This past weekend, however, I spent two and a half hours watching Kathryn Bigelow’s (who in 2010 won best picture and director at the Academy awards, beating out her ex-husband, James Cameron, with “The Hurt Locker”) latest militaristic work, and I was blown away. To call her “Zero Dark Thirty” a great film is an understatement, as this movie is an achievement on nearly every level.

If you aren’t familiar with the story line of the film, “Zero Dark Thirty” focuses on the investigative journey of a resilient CIA operative named Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, as she spends 10 years diligently hunting Osama bin Laden. 

At the very start of the film, audiences face a black screen with a composite of haunting audio recordings from the day of the World Trade Center attack, painfully reminding viewers of the tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001. From here, we jump two years later to find an al Qaeda detainee being mercilessly tortured. It is here that Maya’s story, as well as the controversy behind this film, begins. 

Maya, an agent recently stationed in Pakistan, slowly begins to immerse herself into the dark and confusing world of terrorist tracking, attacks and interrogations. 

Through the years of her search, Maya quickly rises within the CIA rankings as well as al Qaeda’s hit list. Chastain effectively conveys the emotional Maya’s struggle as her character faces years of hardships and personal loss in her efforts to find bin Laden. 

The story culminates into a series of events in 2011 as an elusive courier who Maya has been tracking, Abu Ahmed, eventually leads her to a mysterious compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Within this compound are women, children and one man who, suspiciously, never steps outside.  

Because bin Laden was never identified within the house, it was a highly risky move for the American government to pursue this lead, but Maya’s determination and confidence convinces her CIA superiors to move forward with the stealth raid on this secure Pakistani compound. 

The raid itself, following a team of U.S. Navy SEALs called the “Canaries,” uses first person perspective and night vision to allow for a more immersive and gripping experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen on film before. From the moment the Canaries break into the compound to bin Laden’s death, you will be at the edge of your seat.

If it weren’t for Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in “Silver Linings Playbook,” I would say Jessica Chastain has the Oscar in the bag. She is outstanding as an incredibly determined and strong-willed agent whose constant struggle throughout her ten-year journey only fuels the fire for her mission. In a film filled with many familiar faces, Chastain has the acting chops to stand out among them all and truly bring to life one of the strongest female leads in recent years.

For a film that certainly portrays U.S. interrogation tactics in a negative light, this film received its fair share of criticism from the U.S. government. Countless members of Congress, including Sen. John McCain, spoke out against the film for being inaccurate. That being said, none of the major political figures of the past decade, including Presidents Barack Obama and George Bush and Vice President Cheney, are portrayed in any sort of negative light. 

The movie may have its share of inaccuracies, but for a story that reveals so much about the inner workings of the government, it may be for the best. Bigelow did an outstanding job with her attention to detail, making every scene of this movie mind-boggling. 

The directing, acting, writing and overall production of this film is impeccable, and it is ludicrous that Bigelow has been snubbed from the “Best Director” title at the Oscars this year. I firmly believe that “Zero Dark Thirty” is the best film of the year.



Contact William Neal at wneal@nd.edu