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Zero Dark Thirty

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There’s been much written about Zero Dark Thirty and its alleged support of torture – much of it by pundits chasing a quick headline.

Yes, Kathryn Bigelow’s sweeping tale about the hunt of Osama Bin Laden contains some genuinely disturbing scenes of torture – but showing is not the same as endorsing. Indeed, Zero Dark Thirty is a far more nuanced affair where the lines between right and wrong are fuzzy and constantly shifting.

The film begins with Maya (Jessica Chastain), a quietly determined CIA operative just arrived in Pakistan, sitting in on her first interrogation. Over the next six minutes Dan, played with a mix of brutish strength and thoughtfulness by Australian Jason Clarke, physically breaks and humiliates his Pakistani prisoner. It’s an uncompromising opening act that sets the tone for what’s to follow.

Over the next eight years Maya continues to track Bin Laden as her own motives become increasingly suspect. Bigelow cleverly plays with how real world events affect the closed world of the CIA – increased drone attacks, the election of Barack Obama and the subsequent reigning in on ‘intensive interrogation’ techniques.

At close to three hours long, Zero Dark Thirty is smartly paced and never drags. It deals with the implications from the war on terror from both sides without becoming sentimental. Yet as a protagonist Maya is never fully developed – the audience, and her colleagues for that matter, learn little about her throughout her journey.

However Zero Dark Thirty remains a remarkable film. Without giving too much away, the final assault by US Navy Seals on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad is once of the tensest, more expertly executed set pieces in recent cinematic history.

Zero Dark Thirty is uncomfortable, occasionally squeamish and compelling viewing. Considering its subject matter, it should be. Highly recommended.

Zero Dark Thirty is now in general release.


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