Zero Dark Thirty is certainly a compelling movie. It plays as a docudrama, providing an in-depth study of the US intelligence services hunt for Osama Bin Laden. It cannot be faulted on technical level and the performances are very strong. It does not adopt a celebratory or triumphalist tone in its approach to the story. In fact director Kathryn Bigelow at first glance seems to have made a relatively politically neutral movie. However, on mature reflection that may not be necessarily the case. There is one present on a far more subtle level. The film focuses ons the story from a US perspective but that is perfectly acceptable as it is not meant to be a exploration of the geo-politics that lead to the events depicted.
Do not expect to see all the traditional elements of narrative cinema in Zero Dark Thirty. CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a driven woman but this is not really explored because it is not the focus of the plot. By dint of the fact that she is an employee of the CIA, we simply have to assume that she is a patriot and culturally traumatised by the events of September 11th. This is how it is with all characters within the movie. We follow them but they do not lead to scrutiny of wider issues within the screenplay. This is movie about “how” and not “why”. A lot is left to the viewer to consider and decide themselves, if they see fit to do so. Is the use of torture effective? Was the US government right to invest so much resources into hunting one man? Was the death of Osama Bin Laden of any real military relevance or simply an act of national closure and political opportunism?
The final act of the movie reconstructs the Navy SEAL raid on the compound at Abbottabad. Those expecting a traditional action sequence will be disappointed. Technically accurate, it is bereft of all the faux melodrama usually associated with Hollywood’s depiction of such events. It is depressingly plausible and in some sense anti-climatic. That is not to say that the scene is without suspense. It just has an overwhelming air of inevitability. A sentiment that seems to be felt by all involved as the decade long operation reaches its conclusion. Was it a real victory or had its meaning ultimately been lost? Zero Dark Thirty ends it’s two and a half hour journey on a note of emotional ambiguity. It makes for strangely fascinating viewing but does no more than present the viewer with the “facts”. The rest is up to you to decide, although there are hints at where the film makers feelings lie.