Scripted, shot and in the can within 18 months of the May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, her compelling account of the decade-long quest to track down and kill the al-Qaida leader, is a brilliant, breathtaking film.
At over two-and-a-half hours, it’s also a long film, and the viewer needs to stay sharp to stay on top of the details of the labyrinthine search, but Bigelow tackles the complex story with the same muscular urgency and incisive intelligence that won her an Oscar for The Hurt Locker.
Jessica Chastain’s delicate-looking, fine-boned redhead Maya is the film’s protagonist – a character based on a real, necessarily anonymous CIA agent. And it is Maya who proves to be driving force behind the hunt for bin Laden, pursuing clues, hints and hunches with monomaniacal tenacity over the coming years. At times, her enemy isn’t simply al-Qaida but butt-covering superiors and foot-dragging bureaucrats. But Maya is not to be deflected, even when terrorist atrocities strike close to home.
We all know how the story ends. Maya gets her man. When it comes to the raid, Bigelow films the action with a brisk efficiency to match that of the mission’s Navy SEALs. Shot with hand-held cameras, and seen largely through night-vision glasses, the attack is nerve shredding. Bigelow leaves it to us to weigh up the moral cost of Maya’s quest (which hasn’t stopped some people accusing her of being an apologist for torture). What is undisputed is that she has made a terrifically gripping, provocative film and that Chastain is outstanding.
Released on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download on Monday 10th June by Universal Pictures.
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