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Review: Zero Dark Thirty

By River Reporter Jan 30, 2013

Kathryn Bigelow proves again why she is the new queen of the war genre, telling the thrilling story of the greatest manhunt of our generation.

Max Parker

In a scene early on in Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow’s follow up to her 2008 hit The Hurt Locker, a suspected terrorist is bound, his trousers stripped down and a chain attached round his neck. He then proceeds to be lead around like a dog by his captor, an American soldier.

Many have labeled this as shameless US propaganda, yet the Americans depicted early on are not shown as good men, just violent soldiers, who get their information through torture.

Chastain is compelling

Set between the attacks on the World Trade center on September 11 2001, and the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of one woman’s obsession to find and capture the most wanted man in the world. Jessica Chastain (Lawless) plays her role as Maya, a CIA officer, to perfection. She is compelling to watch and her dedication to the cause is obvious immediately. Throughout the film she grows from being slightly nervous at the start, to utterly single minded by the end.

Maya has to deal with many failures along the way, the near decade long story builds up to certain points and then the operations crumble, leaving her back at the beginning. As the film nears its dramatic and tension fuelled finale, you will feel like you have been part of Maya’s life.

Glossy Hollywood set pieces not included

With the discussion about whether or not the US used torture to coerce their captives put to one side, the film has a strong spine of gritty realism. While there are explosions, they are about as far away from a classic war blockbuster as it is possible. This film is far more about one person’s story than glossy Hollywood set pieces. The realism is also extended to the cast, a lack of major stars, except possibly Sopranos actor James Gandolfini, allow the story to shine rather than the big names. One slight problem though is that John Barrowman pops up, nothing against his acting abilities, but it just feels strange having him in a serious CIA meeting and it sorts of jolts you out of concentration.

Some scenes are hard to watch

While the star is no doubt Chastain, Jason Clarke (Public Enemies) puts in a strong performance as Dan, a ruthless and brutal CIA officer. His torture scenes are a hard watch and his good cop/bad cop routine with the prisoner is eerily believable.

Criticism and controversy have really struck this film since it was released in America, with prominent politicians condemning its use of torture. It has also been reported that the film is too close to reality, with people involved on the mission divulging too much classified information. Though do not let this put you off, Zero Dark Thirty is a must see.

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