We all remember where we were for key events of modern history. Where were you when the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death broke? For many, they were told by an American hero, John Cena, who stood in a wrestling ring and announced it to a crowd. This memory lives on forever, rent-free in the minds of those who found out that a prominent terrorist was finally killed. Zero Dark Thirty omits Cena but provides an exceptionally lengthy recount of the decade-long search that finally led to the death of a notorious criminal. Kathryn Bigelow directs this piece with an all-star cast backing her up on the inevitable train toward varied, exceptional accounts of what sacrifices were made to, eventually, throw a horrible man’s body deep into the ocean.
Or so it would seem. Bigelow makes a bold move within Zero Dark Thirty. Quite a few, actually. Her personal notions and the takedown of civil, American patriotism is a fascinating case of true events dipped in murky doubt. Controversy is inevitably attached to Zero Dark Thirty. Its timeline is uncomfortable, its ethical standings leaning this way and that, with little specific conviction. Where Bigelow does make a stand are in places that warrant ambiguity, but her powerful technical merit has no desire to play fair. What is the point in fair play with moviemaking? Bigelow goes for the gut punch, and because of it, we are still discussing Zero Dark Thirty almost a decade after its release. Its impact not just on modern filmmaking, but on the conversation around Bin Laden, is a fascinating development.
With such a strong ensemble, it is almost impossible to overlook the technical merits. That is the leading function Zero Dark Thirty consistently observes. As long as it has its artistic integrity, then it is free to stir up an interesting set of observations. Jessica Chastain hands in a phenomenal performance, as does Jason Clarke. Both are integral to the vision Bigelow creates here. She wishes to understand the American mentality, not just of the soldiers and the politicians, but the people. What is America proud of? Are they proud of besting a bastard, or are they engaged with the irrefutable fires of patriotism? They are proud because those that serve are proud. They are so inherently linked, and that is what Chastain and Clarke understand here. With Bigelow guiding them in scenes of torture and terror, Zero Dark Thirty comes to life with a stunning series of heavy-hitting messages at the heart of it.
Superb direction and an open discussion about the events that led up to, and subsequently followed the death of Osama Bin Laden. Bigelow takes liberties with the truth, but they work to her advantage. Zero Dark Thirty is, after all, only based on true events. Those words, “based on true events,” give this feature the scope to say and do whatever it wishes. Bigelow thrives on this opportunity, commenting, directly or indirectly at times, on the response America, and the world in general, had to the death of Bin Laden. Not just that, but she explores the way they got there, and the impact that will have on the generations to come, the fraught sensibilities between government and public is explored with exceptional detail here.