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Zero Heart Thirty

While a technical masterpiece, Zero Dark Thirty fails to build any meaningful relationship between cast

Jessica Chastain as CIA officer Maya - Courtesy of Anna Ourna Pictures

Jessica Chastain as CIA officer Maya – Courtesy of Anna Ourna Pictures

Zero Dark Thirty, the latest offering from The Hurt Locker’s Kathryn Bigelow, is a monumental film. Chronicling the decade-long search for Osama Bin Laden, Bigelow puts together a thorough profile of the woman behind the initiative, Maya (Jessica Chastain), whose last name is never given, and the efforts involved in the operation to find the world’s (formally) most wanted man.

Technically, Zero Dark Thirty is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking. Bigelow captures the desolation of the Middle East with glorious imagery, weaving a suspenseful, and triumphantly realistic, portrayal of wartime tensions.

Presenting itself as a historical narrative, it succeeds in relaying an honest (and not necessarily favourable) depiction of the American involvement in the Middle East. Each actor does a fantastic job, especially Chastain, who plays Maya as an impassioned, unshakable force, undeterred by the daunting mission. Her performance commands the film.

So far, the praise for this film is high. Critically, it has been lauded as one of the best from 2012, despite only just recently receiving a wide release. And clearly, I agree in some respects.

However, Zero Dark Thirty lacks any sort of authentic emotionality. While Chastain is masterful, Maya has no legitimate connection to any of the other characters in the film and is hardly relatable to the audience. The few instances where Bigelow attempts to establish relationships amongst the characters are contrived and quick, without any lasting sense of importance or weight.

The lead character in Zero Dark Thirty, in that case, is not Maya, but context. The film jumps large gaps of time to provide this context, and in doing so sacrifices character development. This tactic was a necessary evil to set the stage for terrifically tense and action-packed conclusion. Unfortunately, to watch such a compelling narrative develop, we watch a small group of potentially engaging characters serve merely to aid in plot progression.

Bigelow’s commitment to realism pays off in terms of representing the source material as authentically as possible, but her superficial consideration of the human condition makes Zero Dark Thirty a heavy-handed, academic film. Its dense subject matter lends itself to exposition rather than poetics, and as a result the audience experience is far from escapist. Zero Dark Thirty is not a character film, but it does demand your attention.[hr]

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