Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Mark Duplass, James Gandolfini, Joel Edgerton
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
From the Academy Award winning director of The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, comes this film, a look at the decade long hunt to track down and bring Osama bin Laden to justice. Based on first hand accounts of what happened, there's already critical buzz circling around this film, with talk of an Oscar on the way for its star (who has already claimed a Golden Globe).
Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, a CIA agent brought in to the hunt for bin Laden after the September 11th terror attacks. Initially reticent to take part in the controversial methods of torture (waterboarding, deprivation techniques) the CIA used out in the field, Maya begins to work a series of leads which she thinks will find bin Laden's courier.
But, at every turn, she finds obstacles in her path to pursuing this route - from the bosses at the CIA insisting she prevent attacks on the homeland rather than following a vendetta which isn't coming to fruition to reticence from agents in the region who believe she's wasting her time.
However, when Maya finds the compound where bin Laden's hiding, suddenly her decade long quest moves into sharp focus...
Zero Dark Thirty is a terrifically thrilling film, which takes its time to inveigle its way under your skin, but when it does, it refuses to let go.
Chastain is electrifying as Maya, the initially wet behind the ears agent, who refuses to take part in the torture of suspects but whose life outlook is changed when her friends are killed and she goes from wavering agent to steely determined agent, who's looking for success no matter what the outcome. But Chastain's great strength in this role is how it gradually builds up to this point and how plausible she makes the character's motivations. When her friends are killed in a bomb attack, Maya explains how she believes she was spared and intones that she's going to "smoke everyone involved in the operation. And then I'm going to kill bin Laden." It's to Chastain's credit that this key line is delivered plausibly and not in true Hollywood fashion with gung ho music and fists being punched in the air. We also know little of Maya outside of the job too - so it's understandable that she's so consumed by it all - and none of that lack of outside life matters to the portrayal as everything we need to know is up there on the screen.
And some of that credit must also be given to director Bigelow, who's fashioned a quiet thriller of a film which builds to a stunning final sequence which follows the Navy SEALS who took down bin Laden's compound. That edge of your seat action is so compelling, heart-stopping and clinical in its direction and execution. Kathryn Bigelow's also pulled together a film which gets the best from its actors and delivers a career defining acting killer punch from her lead. It's also respectful too - there are no gloating shots of bin Laden's body, which is only subtly seen through a digital camera snap. Some may feel it's a propaganda piece, but that's missing the point - at the end of the day, this is about one of the CIA's best kept secrets, an examination of the drive and determination of one woman, out to get justice.
Tautly paced, superbly directed and powerfully acted, Zero Dark Thirty deserves all the acclaim it's currently getting. I'd be highly surprised if this doesn't receive an Oscar nod when the time comes a little later this year.