Zero Dark Thirty: A heady cocktail of docu-film and thriller

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“In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director” – quoted Alfred Hitchcock, which makes it difficult for one to decide whether Kathryn Bigelow’s latest offering actually belongs. ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (A spy term for half an hour past midnight to describe the time when Osama Bin Laden was gunned down) is a film which conveniently shifts from being a documentary film to a feature film in the most seamless fashion.

The director leaves you awe-inspired with her ability to handle human emotions set against a backdrop where the lines between life and death begin to blur, be it her previous film, ‘The Hurt Locker’ or the latest, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’.

The torture scenes (reminiscent of Abu Ghraib), despite the brutality, have been given a kosher treatment, where the director seems to be shying away from ‘Tarantino’ism, in a bid to put the audience in a dilemma whom to root for. Well that doesn’t render them innocents, but one could hear few people in the audience (especially females) sighing and uttering remarks in Gujarati.

The remarks can be roughly translated as, “Poor guy! “How is he supposed to know…he must be a mere pawn with no clue about Osama’s whereabouts’” Such reactions speak volumes on the performance of actor Reda Kateb who played the terrorist (equally brilliant in the French film, ‘The Prophet’ nominated for the best foreign language film in 2009).

Speaking of performances, Jason Clarke as Dan, surely shines in the interrogation scenes but the scene where he leaves you spellbound is where he mourns for the slain monkeys in the cage and admits, “I am sick of seeing naked men!” The actor who steals the show is undoubtedly Jessica Chastain who essays the role of Maya – the woman with ‘never-say-die’ attitude.

Well, I am not a fan of expletives being used in films (and real life), but I must admit that the scene where Jessica Chastain shines the most is where she proclaims, “I am the m**** who found this place”, much to the shock of her senior officers. The scene could have never created such impact sans the ‘M’ word. Nevertheless, the scene has surely got to do a lot with the way Jessica approaches Maya’s character. The last scene showing Jessica moist-eyed lingers for hours after you have walked out of the auditorium.

To quote Hitchcock again (Who else can speak of suspense better than him?), “When there’s a bomb under a table, and it explodes, that’s action. When we know the bomb is there, and the people at the table play cards, and it doesn’t explode, that’s suspense.” In a film where you know the bomb is under the table and you are certain that it’s going to explode (metaphorically), it is a challenge to keep the audience wide-eyed for two hours and forty minutes as if they were watching a suspense thriller (we even know that Osama will eventually be gunned down).

The scriptwriter Mark Boal (who also wrote ‘The Hurt Locker) ensures that the investigation process becomes interesting and builds up to the (already known) finale. The editors William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor divide the narration into PowerPoint-like segments including Human Error slide, without making it yawn-inducing. Director of Photography, Greig Fraser deserves kudos for the way he captures the finale shot completely in the dark with few green radiations thrown in good measure, allowing the audience to have a peek into the action.

Like every film, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ isn’t free from glitches, which range from a chase scene in Pakistan where an Indian flag suddenly shows up, the residents in Osama’s mansion or the neighbours fail to hear the helicopters hovering around their house, the neighbours switch on their lights when it is a well-documented fact that the electricity was cut out for few hours during the operation, and of course, the people of Pakistan speaking in Arabic instead of Urdu etc. but such bloopers rarely obstruct the thrill of watching ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, easily my bet for the Oscars, especially for Jessica Chastain as the best actress.

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