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Zero Dark Thirty - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published February 1st 2013
Kathryn Bigelow is that rare thing in Hollywood. A woman director. It's a sad fact that only three of the hundreds of films that received a general release in the U.S. last year, only three were directed by women. On one of those, Brave, the female director was sacked mid way through production, and on another, Cloud Atlas, co-director Lana Wachowski actually had to start life biologically as a man to get the gig, which leaves Bigelow as the only person born a woman to completely direct a commercially released feature film.

To buck the gender trend further, Bigelow's films lean toward the action genre. Her latest Zero Dark Thirty, like her previous Hurt Locker, is set mostly in the Middle East and is more of a slow burning yarn punctuated with moments of great tension.

The film centres on Maya, who soon after 9/11 is employed by the CIA to help track down Osama bin Laden. The story follows her 10 year pursuit.

For the audience this proves a hard slog initially, with one brief vignette after another involving obscure names connected to Al-Qaeda. You may also find yourself wondering why you've decided to watch a film about people being tortured. Fortunately, the few torture scenes, which consist of suggestion more than anything too explicit, are soon dispensed with. As the search closes in, the story becomes more involving.

It's a shame that there has been controversy about the film's depiction of torture after the filmmakers have gone to such great lengths to ensure the events portrayed are accurate. How the information was obtained and the filmmakers' stance on torture are the main points of controversy. For my mind, there is nothing here to suggest the condoning of torture as a method used by the military to retrieve information or to make any claims that it is the reason bin Laden was finally located.

Jessica Chastain has received a lot of praise for her performance, but while there is much to admire in the character of Maya, it isn't that easy to get close to her.

The same could be said about the film itself. It's well made but never really reaches any great dramatic heights, and at a lengthy two and a half hours, less would have been more.

For the record, Zero Dark Thirty is U.S. military speak for half past midnight.

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Why? From the director of The Hurt Locker
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