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12 January 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (Review): "Is America Coming Home?"

Kathryn Bigelow
Picture part of
public domain

Warning: Spoiler Alert

“Zero Dark Thirty” is a very engaging film. It showcased America as the “good guy” out for justice.  The film dangerously hovers around being a political propaganda but under the direction of Kathryn Bigelow, the film was tempered and instead, it became an intelligent action movie based on actual events. The characters in the movie are composite characters and not real people.  The successful hunt for Osama Bin Laden was the collective effort of countless C.I.A.  agents.  However, filling the movie with many characters that come and go does not produce good film making.   The audience needs to root for a single charismatic character, and thus enters Maya, adeptly portrayed by Jessica Chastain.

Bigelow was blatant in dramatizing the use of torture to obtain information, which prompted  C.I.A. acting director Michael J. Morell to criticize the film.  If this movie is to be taken seriously, in the eyes of the world, America is still a formidable power. Al-Qaeda may have weakened America’s foundation but America can still will its sword if confronted. 

Bottom line, the film has one single intention: to show how America found and eventually killed “one of the most dangerous man in the world,” Osama Bin Laden.  Biglow is a master.  Every shot of the film matters; nothing is wasted.  She is edgy and very Hollywood at the same time. The last 30 minutes of the film was one of the most suspenseful scenes in any action movie.  There was no fanfare, no over the top explosive scenes, just superb direction. 

Jessica Chastain’s performance was crucial to the film. If the role were given to a lesser actor, the film might have become another run-of-the mill action movie, indifferent and pretentious.  Because of Chasain’s magnetic onscreen presence, we forget that “Zero Dark Thirty” is all about American interest.  It is about a superpower defeating an enemy. 

Chastain was able to take us along the emotional changes of her character. The minute she entered the scene, her subtle gestures immediately show us that she does not want to be in Pakistan.  However, through the course of the film, we see her transform.  Her character’s erratic behavior mirrors Claire Dane’s performance in “Homeland” but Chastain still made her performance unique. 

In a way, her character is America herself, vulnerable and frightened in the beginning, then frustrated and helpless, and then irresolute and obsessed, finally, smart and victorious.  Chastain’s last scene is pure catharsis not only for the audience but perhaps for America as well. Her expression encapsulates how Americans must have felt when Osama Bin Laden was finally taken.  Chastain’s reaction was filled with relief, triumph, but grief as well. Perhaps, America’s intrusion to other lands to protect itself is finally over. Is America finally going home? Is America finally safe? (First Published in "The Chair" Blog)

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