Kathryn Bigelow has crafted a taut, thriller of a movie in Zero Dark Thirty, the follow-up to her multiple Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker.
Chronicling the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the film has racked up rave reviews, and let’s get this straight, it’s certainly thrillingly enjoyable. It looks slick, it’s well scripted and the research shines through. Which is part of the problem, but more on that later.
Bigelow has bent over backwards to make this story of CIA dedication and Navy Seal heroics believable in the detail; it’s just that she loses any sense of character along the way.
Jessica Chastain is feisty CIA agent Maya, who furiously pursues the one lead she believes will lead right to Osama’s door, defiant in the face of roadblocks from all angles. But we never get under her skin, to see what makes her tick, where she comes from, why she’s so driven or what she wants to prove, beyond being right.
Unfortunately the same is true with the entire cast. If Chastain’s agent is thinly sketched, the rest are nothing but shallow cyphers. Yes, Jason Clarke is a tough man who’ll do whatever it takes to get the truth from his prisoners, Kyle Chandler is the obstructive boss who needs Maya to prove her hunch and Jennifer Ehle the woman who challenges Maya to be better, but again there’s nothing beyond their perfunctory roles.
This is a roller coaster blockbuster masquerading as art house. It’s enthralling fun on the surface, but oddly emotionally distant and at times shallow with cliché, such as the laboured repetition of the standard issue solitary tear motif.
For a film that from the outset announces its basis in true recollections, that takes several swipes at the WMD fiasco and subsequent furore, Bigelow makes a fatal flaw in depicting the London bombings of 2005 with nary a mention of the fact they were carried out by home-grown fanatics inspired by, but not in conjunction with Al Qaeda.
At best this is gross negligence of the facts, at worst hideously hypocritical manipulation of them. Considering the amount of research that went into this film, one can only assume the latter is closer to the truth. Falling as it does half way through the film, it critically undermines credibility from then on.
Fantastic popcorn, this is nowhere near as accomplished as The Hurt Locker.
Stephen A Russell