Zero Dark Thirty is another war-related film from the Oscar-celebrated collaboration of Kathryn Bigelow (director) and Mark Boal (writer). Their second film is dedicated to the ten years of secret operation by an elite team whose only mission is to find and eliminate Osama bin Laden.
As in their previous film, The Hurt Locker, Bigelow and Boal present this war topic with great realism and through non-judging position. Like in The Hurt Locker, the film follows the story through the eyes of a lonely main character dedicated to her mission and work - CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain). Not only Maya’s obsession of finding al-Qaeda terrorist leader leads the team of what seems like tired and lost team of intelligence, it also drives the whole film. Considering that Jessica Chastain’s character is a woman without secrets, interesting stories or personal problems, it seems at first as an impossible task to get a real hero out of Maya, but Jessica Chastain does it brilliantly with her pure and sincere performance. The actress proves that she is gifted not only in the comedy roles like in The Help or supporting roles like in Lawless and Coriolanus but also as a lead in a serious drama.
Dramatically a lot of focus and attention concentrates on a character who becomes a center of the film, a real person who is the only reason of the story’s existence - the leader of al-Qaeda. He is an invisible villain. A goal of creating drama through fighting an invisible villain is a difficult task in filmmaking and that is where “Zero Dark Thirty” lacks its visual expression.
Zero Dark Thirty does not feel like a long film (despite its 2 hours 37 min) but its broken pace damages everything: years pass by in a repetition very quickly while the raid itself is shot almost in a real-time, minute-by-minute speed.
Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal made an important creative decision not to commit to any viewpoint and decided to follow passionate but quite straightforward character. All these decisions left this film emotionally cold and very “as a matter-of-fact”.
The manhunt for one of the world's most dangerous man is a tremendously important event in the history of the 21st century and no wonder that it attracted one of the best filmmakers of our time. However in the attempt to show a true event without slipping into a melodrama of a patriotic victory and avoiding factual problems, the filmmakers showed an unemotional story of a lonely individual on the edge of the earth trying to achieve her goal for no apparent personal reasons. As a story it is amazing and by no means important in the history of 21st century, but the decisions made in the script almost diminish its value and as a film it fails to impress.