Instantly acclaimed as one of the year's best films when it began screening in advance of its opening several weeks ago, Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty has also been sparking controversy all over the U.S. due to its treatment -- or alleged treatment -- of torture, and how that may have led directly to the locating (and killing) of Osama bin Laden.
As I observed in my review, however:
Lean, muscular, and shorn of sentimentality, Zero Dark Thirty is consistently absorbing, even as it makes the case that morally-repugnant torture was absolutely necessary in order to discover the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Note that the film, written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow with riveting precision, does not argue in favor of torture. Instead, it endeavors to lay out facts like railroad tracks; torture leads to the breakdown of an insider, who then provides information on another insider, which then leads the investigators, ultimately, to their desired destination, i.e. the location of bin Laden.
The film's greatest strength is not its journalistic accuracy, despite an opening title card that claims it is based on real-life accounts:
Whatever the facts, whatever genuine anger and moral repugnance lingers, Zero Dark Thirty is the real deal, a piercing drama that applies a documentary approach to a sobering military mission.
Kathryn Bigelow's direction is bolstered considerably by Jessica Chastain as the film's protagonist, an intelligence analyst who is assigned to the Middle East and spends years in the field, tracking down her quarry. Chastain brings her character fully to life; I think it's one of the best performances of the year.
Zero Dark Thirty is definitely not an easy film to watch. It made my stomach queasy, but not because of any explicit violence; the unease results from questions of morality and proper conduct in the face of unspeakable horrors.
The film opens today, Wednesday, December 19, in New York and Los Angeles. It will expand in limited release on January 4, 2013, and then go wide across the U.S. on January 11.