Zero Dark Thirty Sheds Light on Fight Against Terrorism

Marisa Wherry, Staff Writer

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A dramatization of the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty captures your attention in an enthralling chase to find possibly the most dangerous man in the world. A small unit of CIA agents stationed in the Middle East tracks the well-hidden trail of Bin Laden as more terroristic attacks occur around the world, in which some of the team is lost. Although the CIA unit as a whole works to find Bin Laden, the film focuses on Jessica Chastain’s portrayal of Maya, the CIA agent fixated on finding Bin Laden.

In her most stunning performance yet, Chastain embodies the real (unknown) woman who spent five years tracking down Osama Bin Laden. In an interview, Chastain reveals that filming Zero Dark Thirty “was the worst experience of [her] life.” Although the actress was nominated for an Oscar for best actress in a leading role, the material in Thirty is not for the light-hearted. The torture scenes are not so gruesome that they’re unwatchable, but the film did receive some heat for “glorifying torture.” On the flip side, fans of the film have claimed that omitting torture scenes from Thirty would have been unrealistic and dishonest.

Although the violence in Thirty is somewhat disturbing, the most striking element of the film is Chastain’s ruthlessness. At first Chastain comes across as a bit timid; certainly not a born killer. But the audience soon becomes suspicious that she is not the same actress who played the happy-go-lucky Celia Foote in The Help. In a meeting where Bin Laden’s location is being discussed, Chastain claims she is certain she knows where Bin Laden resides. When the CIA director looks at her and says “Who are you?” Chastain respectfully replies: “I’m the mother f***** who found this place, sir.”

Next to Chastain, Jason Clarke gives an impressive performance. He either has experience torturing people or does a bang-up job at pretending to do so, but we’ll credit his acting skills. Playing George Wilson in the Great Gatsby (which comes out on May 10th), Clarke plays exceptionally different roles in the two films. In Thirty he’s the intimidating interrogator, and in Gatsby he takes the role of subservient George Wilson, husband of Myrtle. A broad spectrum of acting roles points to flexible acting talents, a crucial quality of today’s best actors and actresses (Johnny Depp, for example), which both Chastain and Clarke provide evidence of having with The Help, The Great Gatsby, and Zero Dark Thirty.

Director Kathryn Bigelow reunited with writer Mark Boal to make Zero Dark Thirty, a pair favored by movie critics. Bigelow and Boal make a potent combination; evidence of this is their first cinema child together, The Hurt Locker, which was nominated for nine Oscars, of which it won six. Thirty was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, but, to the surprise of many, took home only one award, which was for Best Achievement in Sound Editing.

Argo, also a historically-based dramatization of an occurrence in U.S. history (all of a sudden history is cool), instead took home the Best Picture award. While Argo is an enthralling film that has the viewer rooting for Ben Affleck to save the six Americans stranded in Iran, it’s softer and less violent than Zero Dark Thirty, perhaps when it shouldn’t be. During the Iranian Hostage Crisis, fifty two Americans were held captive in Iran for over a year, and they received more than dirty looks from the guards. However, in Ben Affleck’s film, only one scene is attributed to the violence and mental anguish that the American embassy workers experienced. Argo is a very well made movie, but Zero Dark Thirty has an extra wow factor from its brutal reality. The most exhilarating scenes from both Argo and Thirty makes anyone stare spellbound at the screen, however, Argo ends with ben Affleck’s character’s life coming back together, and at the end of Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain’s character comes to the sad realization that much of her life, now that Osama Bin Laden is dead, is over. Maybe the Oscars favor more optimistic takes on historical events in American history, maybe not. But I certainly wouldn’t want to choose between Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.  Bigelow and Chastain create an amazing lead character, speak out against terrorism, and cinematically reveal the process of hunting down the man who indelibly scarred the United States in a complex, captivating series of events.

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