Jessica Chastain

Zero Dark Thirty illuminates the dark side of war

Zero Dark Thirty


Zero Dark Thirty is about the manhunt for the most dangerous man in the world, Osama bin Laden. Although it has been nominated for many awards it has also attracted attention for controversy and criticism for allegedly taking a pro-torture stance. But, war is a nasty business.

The title is a military term for 30 minutes after midnight but it also refers to the darkness and secrecy that cloaked the decade-long mission to find bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirty is not for the squeamish and I admit I found it disturbing in places. The movie has been heavily criticized for its torture scenes and I, personally, wish they had not spent so much time on those particular scenes. However, the movie leaves it up to the viewer to make the moral judgment of whether or not the final goal, the elimination of bin Laden, justifies the means by which the information was attained.

Along the journey the movie also reminds us of the many lives lost during unsuspecting terrorist attacks which bin Laden was behind. In addition to 9/11 bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization were responsible for the bombing of the Islamabad Marriott Hotel, Camp Chapman attack, and the London bus bombing.

Jessica Chastain plays a bad-ass CIA analyst who spends her whole career studying al-Qaeda and tracking the moves of bin Laden and his associates. Through 10 years of diligent work looking for the needle in the haystack she finally unravels the mystery of bin Laden’s currier system and by following these men the CIA team finally finds a compound where they suspect he is living.

When the team presents its findings to the head of the CIA, the team estimates there is a 60% chance that bin Laden is there. Only Maya, Chastain’s character, is 100% sure.

Everyone knows how the story ends but that doesn’t make the ending any less exciting. The fact that it is filmed with handheld cameras with dark green lighting to simulate night vision goggles makes it all the more realistic. We feel we are right there breaking down doors and running up stairs with the SEAL Team 6. We hold our breath as various obstacles are met and overcome.

A certain faction of the Republican Party loudly criticized this movie claiming it was merely publicity for Obama and that it revealed sensitive government secrets. Release of the movie was held until after the elections so it would not be a factor in the elections. This movie is not about the president and his image is on the screen for about two seconds. We see a TV playing in the background of one scene and the image of Obama tells us that the time sequence is now during the Obama administration rather than Bush. In no way is this a political PR tool for Obama.

Secondly, I don’t see that any information is given in the movie that we didn’t already know. It is no longer a dirty little secret that we use torture and almost any means necessary to gain the information we need. This is a black eye for the U.S. and it appears even uglier when we see it played out on the screen; but it happens. This is the nature of war and I’m sure it has been happening as far back as the Revolutionary War. We as a nation have preferred to sanitize it or overlook it altogether when we make our hero war movies.

Zero Dark Thirty has been nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture. It was also nominated for four Golden Globe Awards including Best Actress for Jessica Chastain which she won. I feel Zero Dark Thirty could win many awards and this could be the year for Chastain to win for Best Actress. She is excellent in portraying a young but very dedicated CIA agent who is so self-assured that she is willing to risk her reputation when going up against those at the very top of the ladder.

This movie is really about those behind the scenes. The dedicated CIA and undercover agents and the rigorous and sometimes tedious life they lead—a life that is also accompanied by danger which could occur at any moment. Chastain portrays an actual undercover agent who is still working in the field and is not allowed to talk with reporters. Those who know her, however, say the movie does an excellent job in portraying her dedication and determination.

I recommend this movie but I do it with caution. It is only for those who can handle some of the more disturbing scenes. I must admit I closed my eyes a few times.

I give Zero Dark Thirty an A.