Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Man Hunter; Jessica Chastain Is Unmissable as a Ruthless CIA Agent on a Mission to Capture Osama Bin Laden in Kathryn Bigelow's Explosive Revenge dramaFILM OF THE WEEK

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Man Hunter; Jessica Chastain Is Unmissable as a Ruthless CIA Agent on a Mission to Capture Osama Bin Laden in Kathryn Bigelow's Explosive Revenge dramaFILM OF THE WEEK

Article excerpt

Byline: David Sexton

ZERO DARK THIRTY Cert 15, 160 mins

MARK Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, the writer and director of 2009 Oscar winner The Hurt Locker, were already in preproduction on a film about the unsuccessful hunt for Osama bin Laden, when the news came on May 2, 2011, that he had been killed, and they had to start all over again.

Zero Dark Thirty, the story of how he was tracked down to his compound in Pakistan and killed there by American special forces, has thus been made very fast -- and every assumption would be that such hasty treatment of such a big news story would be shallow and crass.

But whatever your attitude to the "war on terror", Zero Dark Thirty is terrifically good, propulsive filmmaking: well-written, excitingly filmed and edited, particularly in its long final action sequence, making superb use of authentic locations, and with an unmissably great performance from Jessica Chastain as its heroine, Maya, the CIA agent obsessed with catching Bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirty doesn't quite claim to be a true story but instead to be "based on first-hand accounts of actual events". Boal is a reporter as well as a screenwriter and he put this story together after months of interviewing those involved in the mission.

In dramatising the material, Boal has been impressively disciplined, letting you as the viewer pick up the story as it goes forward, without explanation. We never find out where Maya comes from or what has made her the way she is. Boal has stated that, not being a fan of "Freudian backstory and exposition", he likes characters to be "defined solely by what they do, in the existential present tense", which is one way of ensuring a good thriller.

Zero Dark Thirty opens with the recorded pleas of the people in the Twin Towers -- "I'm going to die, it's so hot, I'm burning up" -- and the useless advice they are given to "stay calm". From here, it switches at once, thus emphasising cause and effect, to an extended scene of "enhanced interrogation" somewhere in the Middle East two years later.

A resistant detainee is being broken down by an interrogator ( Jason Clarke) who appears strangely genial while uttering rote threats in an ominous present tense -- "When you lie to me, I hurt you" -- and then waterboarding the prisoner, walking him like a dog, and forcing him into stress positions.

These scenes make harrowing viewing and at this stage the torture seems futile since the victim (Algerian actor Reda Kateb, excellent) spouts nonsense, running through all the days of the week when asked "when does he attack?" But later when the detainee is treated more kindly, he lets a crucial name slip, perhaps as a result of disorientation from the earlier torture, so the film is at least ambivalent about its effectiveness.

This has proved offensive to those who, to avoid having to accept there may be negative consequences from taking the moral high ground, prefer to believe that torture must always be ineffective as well as wrong. …

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