Even after ten years, it is almost hard to think about 9/11 without thinking of the emotions going through your head when you hear and see archive footage. It is a historic event for all the wrong reasons and to have the biggest manhunt in modern history brought onto the big screen needs guts and faith, in both the director and screenwriter.
Zero Dark Thirty is the latest film by Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, who won the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay respectively for The Hurt Locker (2009). The film follows CIA officer Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she tirelessly focuses her efforts on capturing Osama Bin Laden.
Despite what has been documented in the media over the last decade, watching this dramatisation is as raw as the subject itself. From the first few moments of the film when you hear the audio from 9/11 and the torture scenes painting a particularly unpleasant picture of what is to come, there is the realisation that this film is not going to take itself lightly.
However, given the context and their ‘placement’ in the story, these torture scenes shouldn’t be seen as integral to the hunt of Bin Laden, nor as pivotal as the last 45 minutes of the film. In some ways, these scenes – difficult as they are to watch – just reinforce the tone of the film and prepares the viewer for what’s to follow.
Chastain is engaging and brilliant as the determined Maya; her transition from a fresh-faced newbie to a worn-down veteran is gripping and inspiring, and when seeing supporting actors such as James Gandolfini, Mark Strong and Kyle Chandler (who play higher-ranking officials) wither in her presence, it proves that it takes a strong actress like Chastain to play such as a strong role, especially faced by adversity from her colleagues and superiors.
It took 82 years for a female director to win the Academy Award for Best Director and it was a film about a bomb disposal unit during the Iraqi War. In her victory, Kathryn Bigelow set an example amongst her peers that female directors can deliver a war film of the same, if not better, calibre than her male counterparts. Her direction, raw and unrefined it can be, delivers an intensity rarely seen in today’s cinema and as the dramatisation plays out to its emotional and thrilling climax, you cannot help but feel a sense of true accomplishment in front and behind the camera.
Gripping and emotionally shredding, Zero Dark Thirty puts Bigelow and Boal back in the spotlight as an outstanding collaborative team, with Chastain a frontrunner for the Best Actress Academy Award in February.