We all know the end-game right? The good old gung-ho Americans dug deep and got Bin Laden, after a decade-long hunt. A big win for the Obama regime. Question is, how did they get there? How does Bigelow take us on that journey?
It’s fair to say the The Hurt Locker in 2008 represented a significant career moment for Kathryn Bigelow, pushing her from developing auteur talent into a fully-fledged award-winning Director. Indeed, she was the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director. Only the fourth woman in history to even get nominated.
Also – with The Hurt Locker – she introduced us to the up-and-coming talent of Jeremy Renner. In Zero Dark Thirty she repeats the trick with Jessica Chastain. Whilst Chastain is a little more established than Renner was at the time, she still only really broke into the A-list in 2011, with a string of well-received films including The Help and The Tree of Life.
In the end, bro, everybody breaks
In terms of plot, Zero Dark Thirty focuses on young CIA officer Maya (Chastain), who we learn has worked on nothing else since being recruited. Finding Bin Laden is her sole task. Through a mixture of controversial interrogation techniques and good old-fashioned investigative work, the trail she doggedly persues over a ten-year period leads to a fortified home in Pakistan, where she’s convinced her target is hiding. The rest we know.
It’s been discussed at length in the press how the film deliberately sits on the fence, neither endorsing nor condemning torture. Perhaps suggesting the Americans found it a necessary evil in the war on terror. Something reflected in the evolution of Chastain’s character, who at first is revolted by torture, but quickly hardens to it.
Credit should not only go to Bigelow’s subtle direction, but also screenwriter Mark Boal, who helped build the tension scene by scene, line by line. In some ways the film plays out like a sort of police procedural drama, a detective story. Slowly, gradually, it hooks you in. Boal’s tight and compelling script; Bigelow’s skill behind the camera; and Chastain’s subtly restrained, yet immensely captivating performance creates an intoxicating mix.
Bigelow artfully ramps up the pressure in the third act, with the assault on the Bin Laden compound being a tense, sobering affair. There are shades of Paul Greengrass in Bigelow’s direction and, for me, this film represents a small but significant step up – in terms of breadth and scope – from The Hurt Locker. It’s entirely deserving of all the accolades received and has very much paved the way for Chastain to ascend to the top of the A-list. Can’t wait to see what she does next. Bigelow too, for that matter.