This is one of those films where you know the outcome already, so the challenge faced by the filmmaker in building up suspense is immense. However director Kathryn Bigelow chooses not to take the ‘Apollo 13’, ‘Argo’ (both films based on true stories where the result is well documented) route of dramatizing events and crafting a thriller.
Instead she goes for a docu-drama style to tell the story of the tracking down of and attack by the USA on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan. Bigelow punctuates the narrative with sub-headings to delineate chapters and move the story along.
Jessica Chastain plays Maya, the enthusiastic CIA officer who makes it her life’s mission to track down Bin Laden. Like her earlier Oscar-winning ‘The Hurt Locker’, Bigelow takes her time setting up the characters and mechanics in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, accelerating in the last hour. At over two and a half hours running time, the film is a bit of a test on your patience and frankly plays to American patriotic zeal, often skirting very close to jingoism.
So a review of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is really more a review of Bigelow’s mastery over the action genre. The representation is stark and unemotional and the attention to detail commendable (though you will spot hints of North India in scenes masquerading as Pakistan). Of course there is great creative license since the story is in large parts fictitious.
It’s far less lingering than ‘The Hurt Locker’, but it’s interesting. It’s technically accomplished and stripped off excesses, but it isn’t riveting. Yet you have to watch ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, however do so with managed expectations.