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Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty is a Righteous Good Time

By Arnetta Leeks
On March 7, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty opens with Jason Clarke's character Dan telling a detainee named Ammar (a composite according to the movie's screenwriter Mark Boal), "You lie to me, I hurt you."  He goes on to knock him down, forces him to endure simulated drowning, and forces him inside a small box.  This is all done with workmanlike simplicity and the scenes do not offer any musical cues or obvious directorial techniques to guide the audience to any emotional response.  Kathryn Bigelow, the director, trusts her audience enough to come to our own conclusions about these enhanced interrogation techniques that produced information that ultimately led to finding Bin Laden.

This early scene also introduces us to Maya (Jessica Chastain), watching the torture of Ammar and ordering Dan to continue.  We follow her for the next 156 minutes as she doggedly pursues every minute piece of information that might lead the US to the capture of Bin Laden.  The character is presented as a quiet, friendless workaholic whose singular vision was the driving force behind capturing Bin Laden.  Chastain infuses Maya with a quiet, unrelenting determination that both scares and awes the viewer.  Maya is an ordinary woman tasked with an extraordinary job and it hits the viewer that all of the people shown on screen are people just doing a job.

The film ends with the intense siege of Bin Laden's hideaway in Pakistan by the Navy SEALs (the two most recognizable faces are Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt) and the scene is claustrophobic and intimate.  Bigelow switches between the green of night-vision goggles and regular film, highlighting how much of a team effort Bin Laden's final takedown was.  Bigelow has a real talent for making large-scale action feel contained and intimate; it's almost disheartening how pathetic an end the most wanted criminal in the world came to; all of the work, all of the death, all of the compromised ideals-ended like this?


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