Written by: Mark Boal
Produced by: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Megan Ellison
Runtime: 157 minutes
Maya did not have a life outside the search for Osama bin Laden. Since the start of his career, all she did was to trace the locations and the connections that will lead her to bin Laden, no matter what is needed to be done. Even torture, she uses to force suspected people to reveal information about bin Laden. During this search, she is led to someone whose alias is Abu Ahmed and is said to be bin Laden’s personal messenger. For years, all she did was to search in the files containing confidential data and information to eventually trace the whereabouts of this Abu Ahmed which might be an important factor in the search for bin Laden.
As it turns out, Abu Ahmed is Ibrahim Sayeed and Ibrahim had a brother named Habib whose photo is used by the CIA and is associated with Abu Ahmed because of their resemblance. Through continuous surveillance, Maya is convinced that Abu Ahmed is indeed still in connection with bin Laden. This leads to the rigorous scrutiny of the CIA to finally confirm whether bin Laden is indeed inside the compound where Maya so strongly believes is his residence. And by the order of the President, a raid was executed in the compound.
Thinking about it now, I must say that the material that they had is extremely dangerous because it is definitely political in nature and it would definitely keep many people away from this film. Luckily, in the hands of Kathryn Bigelow, the director of the anti-war masterpiece The Hurt Locker, the material is given the same amount of respect with edge. The film is full of really brave directorial choices and they are all seamlessly threaded together by the robust screenplay by Mark Boal. The film is as interested with the battle against terrorism the same way it is interested with Maya’s battle with herself, and the latter is actually given a very careful treatment.
What really fascinates me with this film is the persistence in finding the core of the story. The film is more than a way of showcasing America’s efforts to finally kill one of the world’s top leaders of terrorism. It is how someone who is so dedicated in this goal of hers that it already builds her personality the same way that it deconstructs her life because of the amount of the dedication the job requires. Maya’s struggles are completely universal, and the screenplay understands that, and finally, the direction gives the story a much humanized backdrop for the ensuing events. The moments of terror are executed with very visible display of expertise in filmmaking, but what makes it a lot more terrifying is the morality play the film actually subtly presses on beneath all the painstaking work Maya and the government has to go through in achieving their goal.
I would also be confident to say that the film gives attention to the technique the same way that it does in the storytelling process. The brilliance goes from the austere cinematography to the skilful editing to the adept sound work and even to the film’s haunting musical score. The thought allotted to the different technical parts help a lot in carrying out the film’s vision of a completely fleshed out retelling of this sinister part of our history.
Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Joel Edgerton, and Jennifer Ehle supply the film with an authentic aura of intelligence to make the setting of the film feel genuine with all of these characters, but when we talk about Zero Dark Thirty, we really talk about two strong women: one onscreen, one off-screen. Of course, Bigelow was the latter and Jessica Chastain obviously was the former.
Jessica Chastain has officially put herself into the pedestal of these actresses that can possibly do anything. She immediately climbs up beside Meryl Streep (the comparison between the two are understandable), Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, among other actresses, with her strong work from 2011’s The Tree of Life and The Help and this film is no exception.
Her characterization of Maya is fully realized, astonishingly detailed, and rivetingly multi-layered. She masterfully underplays any kind of vulnerability to show us this disturbing toughness necessitated by the process that this woman undergoes through in achieving her ultimate goal of capturing bin Laden. Only an actress of high calibre could possibly do this role any justice, and luckily, the film had Chastain to provide Maya the fierce and strong facade that the environment dictates her to be. It is quite exhilarating to see her move around while armed with grace, beauty, and uncompromising determination. By giving a completely electrifying but totally nuanced and haunting portrayal of this woman Maya, Chastain has confirmed her status as a great actress.
Lastly, I would like to praise again for its no-prisoners attitude of executing the scenes. Nothing is hidden in this gripping account of the struggle one woman has endured for sake of almost everyone. Everything is executed with immediacy and urgency. It is a fearless story told in a fearless manner and is done with fearless usage of the technique, giving us nothing but a completely fearless film.
For this, the film gets: