FilmReview

Review: Zero Dark Thirty "A Work of American War Truth"

Emily White ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor

Jessica Chastain as Maya in "Zero Dark Thirty." Photo Courtesy of Colombia Pictures.
Jessica Chastain as Maya in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Photo Courtesy of Colombia Pictures.

Director Kathryn Bigelow’s latest endeavor, Zero Dark Thirty, is a work of American war truth in a time of willing ignorance. It is a shocking, investigative look into the events leading up to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden by U.S. forces. It shows us everything we wanted to see in the operation, but in doing so also reveals all of the horrible things we never wanted to admit was true about the U.S. “war on terror.” It asks an impossible ethical question: is the torture of some necessary and justifiable when it might mean the protection of millions?

Jessica Chastain delivers an incredible (and Oscar-nominated) performance as Maya, the CIA agent who devotes her life to finding perhaps the most notorious terrorist of our time. In fact, she devotes so much of her life to it that there is not much else she allows herself to do. In a truly haunting scene, Maya is asked what else she has done for the U.S. besides search for Bin Laden in her twelve years of service, and she coldly replies “nothing.” But perhaps it is this unhindered determination that is the only reason Bin Laden was discovered at all. The movie, and Chastain’s painfully brilliant performance, challenges the audience to contemplate this difficult question.

One of the most amazing things about the movie is the speed and precision with which it was executed. Journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal’s script was completed well under a year after the most recent events of the movie occurred. In a way, the movie is a piece of creative investigative journalism, giving America insight into top-secret and sometimes horrific real events. Some of America’s greatest international triumphs and shames in the “war on terror” are put openly on display for criticism and questioning. It is often hard to determine where the line between reality and fiction blurs. The movie certainly takes creative license, particularly by using characters rather than real people, but it is so much based in truth that the audience really does not know what else is fiction.

The best part about Zero Dark Thirty is that it asks questions rather than answering them. The film forces us to stare directly into the face of the difficult truth about our national security. It is truly a movie of our time, as it is one that allows us to both take pride in and question the nature of what it means to be American.

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