Maya (Jessica Chastain) is ruthless in Zero Dark Thirty

Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Sometimes it can feel as if we have already seen a film before we actually sit down and watch it. A lot of the more politically-minded viewers will already have opinions on the American military’s methods in hunting down Osama Bin Laden and the rhetoric around Zero Dark Thirty, the first film from Kathryn Bigelow since she made history at the Academy Awards with The Hurt Locker, would imply it’s a hostile one. The debate as to whether portraying horrific acts, specifically torture, is classed as endorsing it has somehow taken wind and become the lead talking point (especially odd since surely nobody would suggest Argo endorses military coups, or that Django Unchained endorses violent revenge, no matter how racist the person may be), and it has distracted many from discussing the film on any other level.

Told in an almost old-fashioned, journalistic fashion, Zero Dark Thirty traces the manhunt to find Osama Bin Laden. Beginning with the devastating tragedy of September 11, one could take umbrage in the fact that this was not Bin Laden’s first terrorist attack and that he murdered plenty of other innocent people long before that fateful day, and ending with a raid on an Afghanistan compound, Bigelow’s film takes an almost militant stance with the material. The film, much like it’s heroine played by Jessica Chastain (The Help), is steely-resolved with eyes only for the task at hand. It’s cold, but precisioned and Bigelow’s skill behind the camera elevates the material into something resembling a tightened fist of tension just waiting for release. It’s a superb film and one worthy of the many plaudits it has received.

Maya (Jessica Chastain) is ruthless in Zero Dark Thirty

As Maya, Chastain confirms her rapid rise as one of Hollywood’s most talented actors. With a poker face worthy of Vegas, Chastain anchors the film. True, she’s a beautiful woman, but Bigelow’s director and the screenplay by Mark Boal plays on her mental strengths far more than anything physical. Zero Dark Thirty is one of the most fascinating portrayals of a woman – or a man for that matter, but Hollywood is far more kind to flawed, determined white heterosexual males – in quite some time. A free-flowing roster of character actors that come and go as the drama dictates supports her. Australian actors Jason Clarke (Swerve), Joel Edgerton (Wish You Were Here), Nash Edgerton (Bear), and Callan Mulvey (Underbelly) all appear, with Clarke particularly impressing with a character that would make for a fascinating film all its own. Jennifer Ehle (Contagion), Harold Perrineau (Romeo + Juliet), Kyle Chandler (Argo), Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), James Gandolfini (Killing Them Softly), Mark Duplass (Your Sister’s Sister), and Edgar Ramirez (Carlos) are just some of the recognisable faces that are spread across the rest of the sprawling cast.

Justin (Chris Pratt) and Patrick (Joel Edgerton) get ready for battle in Zero Dark Thirty

With stunning cinematography by Greig Fraser (Bright Star) and one of the best scores by Alexandre Desplat (Argo) in some time, Zero Dark Thirty is a technical marvel alongside its other wonderful assets. The debate that it provokes will surely be heated – it already has been, but thanks to delayed release schedules Australians can now contribute – but if the sign of a good film is that it incites passion, then Bigelow’s film is a big success. No matter what the outcome of the arguments any given audience may very well have with somebody over the film, what remains is an immaculately put together work of cinema that deserves all the attention it’s being given.

Zero Dark Thirty is screening in Australian cinemas now.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt,

John Borrowman, Harold Perrineau, Callan Mulvey, Mark Duplass, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini,

Edgar Ramirez, Frank Grillo and Jeremy Strong.