It is official. Kathryn Bigelow has done the meagerly impossible, and that is to top his Best Picture winner that is "The Hurt Locker". Far more ambitious, dense and a tad more entertaining, "Zero Dark Thirty" is the 'War on Terror' film to end all 'War on Terror' films; quite funny, really, because the film does not even feature any scenes of actual warfare at all. And quite funnier, still, is the fact that the film was initially offered to Kathryn Bigelow's ex-flame James Cameron, who then declined the offer stating that he'd rather stick with his blue Pandora natives. Suddenly, I can imagine Bigelow, like Tura Satana in a Russ Meyer film, standing tall, stating "Look who's laughing yet again!?"
"Zero Dark Thirty", in simple description, is an intense reenactment of what might be the most important 'cat-and-mouse' chase of the 21st century, and perhaps also the most controversial and polarizing, all thanks to one man (Osama bin Laden) and his merry band of terrorists (the whole of Al-Qaeda). Alright, granted, there was that little Saddam Hussein sideshow which has populated news media while this bin Laden search is commencing. But what separates Osama Bin Laden's case from that of Saddam's, although very similar in nature, is the former's almost mythical quality. Is bin Laden a real person? Is he still alive? Where in the world is he hiding? (Morgan Spurlock comes to mind) These are the questions which have constantly boggled our minds for years as we go on with our everyday lives. At one time, I have even seen a news item on TV (Or have I read it somewhere? My memory regarding the matter is much too hazy) stating that Osama bin Laden, the most notoriously feared person this side of the world, has finally died of Tuberculosis. Damn, I thought, that would have been very anticlimactic for a man who has lived a life of constant danger and, for a lack of a better term, adventure. But alas, the news item, as it turns out, is not true. Indeed, Osama bin Laden is that little Boogeyman in our sleep that not even our brave teddy bears can fend off.
For years, we have lived in both fear and fantasy. All of us, in one way or another, have dreamt of scenarios which involve us, bin Laden himself, and some apt armaments. If my memory serves me well, there's a viral computer game way back that's mainly focused on realizing just that. In the game, you are a terrorist hunter (If I'm not mistaken!) trying to take down bin Laden with a pistol, who was revealed to be hiding inside a liquor store located in the very heart of mainland America (!). Oh and there's also that 'Miniclip' game which finds George W. Bush himself under attack by terrorist forces inside none other than the White House itself! As expected, we play as the M-16-armed Bush as he goes all "Harrison Ford" against the, presumably, Al-Qaeda terrorists.
Indeed, we have lived this life of utter, teeth-gnashing fantasy of finally putting an end to the path of carnage and destruction that these terror bringers are leaving. Hell, even "South Park" had such a wet dream (See "Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants" episode). And now, finally seeing "Zero Dark Thirty", I personally have arrived to a satisfying denouement. No more flash games and no more South Park parodies. We have finally come to a conclusion, and this time, it's very real. The absence of the cadaver's picture irks the little 'Conspiracy Keanu' in me, but still, it's quite a sigh of relief that the Time Magazine's 'Man of the Decade' (in a twisted alternative universe) has finally met his demise.
For a film with a running time of close to 3 hours, "Zero Dark Thirty" has steadily maintained both the abundance of tension and interest in the narrative mainly because of the film's visual realism, heart-thumping suspense and a central character that we actually quite care about. For the latter aspect, I have to thank Jessica Chastain for giving a commanding yet ultimately affecting performance as Maya, a young CIA agent who may have just arrived at a lead that may bring them to bin Laden himself. And better yet, with his pants down. By way of Chastain's character, Bigelow has just proven that she has indeed mastered the essence of politically-charged thrillers, which is the combination of tension and humanity. In my opinion, she is in no way an action movie director. Instead, she merely filters the action through the eyes of her central characters, and how it unfolds in a way that affects their very beings. For that matter, I think that Kathryn Bigelow is more apt to be labeled as an 'action dramatist'.
No opening credits and not even a proper title card, the film, like a politician who immediately cuts to the chase by stating "Just vote for me, you sons of bitches," brings us immediately into the heart of the action, which involves the brutally persuasive art of interrogation. These scenes, as we all know, have left some people in utter outrage and adamant defense.
"Those (the interrogation techniques used in the film) are highly inaccurate and are nothing but pure movie-making mash," says the CIA. "This film advocates torture and should be boycotted," says one A.M.P.A.S. member. As for me, the interrogation details are highly irrelevant to "Zero Dark Thirty's" quality as a film; in the context of a purely accurate film maybe, but not as a riveting thriller, because it has lots to boast of in terms of that. Maybe those commenting against the film should watch a different one altogether; maybe they'll fancy "Taxi to the Dark Side" more, which is a powerful documentary, by the way, that will, in many ways, nicely complement "Zero Dark Thirty".
It's just some mere hours ago since I've watched the film, and believe me, there's a distinct kind of lasting sensation that goes home with you way after the film is over. Was it satisfaction? Perhaps it is. But I need a better term. Oh, 'catharsis' maybe, about the idea that finally, our world is one evil, bearded man less. But that's also where I'm a bit apprehensive. That after all, Osama bin Laden is just one man; just a thin metal piece in the whole industrial-sized umbrella. Suddenly, I'm a terrorist hunter in a liquor store again.