Kathryn Bigelow follows up her 2008 tour de force, The Hurt Locker with a second foray into a story that scrutinises the chaos and devastation terrorism has wreaked on Western civilisation. Zero Dark Thirty was presented to an eager public in late 2012, less than two years after the raid on a residential compound in Abbottabad culminating in the fatal shooting of Osama Bin Laden.
Casting is about as pitch perfect as it can be with characters reflecting differences rather than similarities. It makes for some tense interaction particularly in early sections (opening interrogation scenes) between Maya (Jessica Chastain), Dan (Jason Clarke), and the formidable Reda Kateb as Ammar (the interrogee). Bigelow is careful not to overuse sentiment or sympathy to retain the audience’s attention and takes steps to avoid extremes with tension/sadness/humour amid character tropes, endowing characters in Zero Dark Thirty with careful contrast. Her deft touch is apparent particularly between the steadfastly vulnerable Maya and a casually sociopathic Dan. Maya grows in stature until the bleating of dogged determination progresses to a mighty roar and of all the characters, is the only one where true evolution occurs. Bigelow allows viewers to identify with Maya as they follow her journey from nervous inception to heroic resolve.
It is difficult to present a story where the audience already know the finale without considering some latitude against the tale itself. Some investigation uncovered the role of Maya (Jessica Chastain) as being less high-profile than outlined in the film. The unrelenting determination Maya exhibits was the work of many, according to witness accounts, but there is an argument in favour of homing in on one central character and letting an audience express their hopes and fears through that unique conduit. Allowing Maya to shine with such fierce physicality can be termed entertainment and Bigelow, in no small way, delivers exactly what she sets out to do.
Zero Dark Thirty is a fine film—one that underscores Kathryn Bigelow’s abilities to the highest level and is eminently worthy of inclusion in the #DirectedbyWomen #Crucial21DbW initiative.
June Butler is an artist and writer with a number of solo art exhibitions in Tokyo under her belt. In 2014, June started writing for Film Ireland and since then, has supplied a number of written pieces along with director interviews for publication. She is an avid film-goer/reviewer and is honoured to be asked to provide a brief analysis on Zero Dark Thirty for #DirectedbyWomen.