Saddle up for Kathryn ‘The Hurt Locker’ Bigelow’s heavy duty Homeland-esque take on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The title comes from the military term for the time when the secret stealth choppers packed with heavily armed Seals took off for their strike on the fortified house where the world’s most wanted man was holed up – 30 minutes after midnight to you and me.
This is a serious, gritty piece of work and the cast includes an amazing lead performance from Jessica ‘Tree of Life’ Chastain as Maya, a CIA operative who dedicates years of her life to bringing Bin Laden down.
Everything is presented in a dusty, hyper-realised intensity which makes for powerful watching even if much of the film is spent with deskbound research and meticulous following up of leads.
Most of those have been sourced through torturing detainees at their various ‘black’ camps. Whatever your feelings towards al-Qaeda, on a human level it is very hard to see suspects being interrogated and waterboarded, beaten and humiliated.
Most of the movie is build up and there is very little real ‘action’ which means that by the time the actual takedown mission takes place you’re really ready for it.
Watching the sleek stealth helicopters hug the contours of the Afghan landscape on their way into Pakistan is when the adrenalin kicks in.
The fact that the commandos almost manage to fumble their mission despite all their bravado only makes it feel all the more ‘real’.
It’s like playing Medal of Honor or Call of Duty on a PS3 – sharp visuals but not necessarily perfect execution, if you pardon the term in this context.
Getting a ringside seat for the mission is the ultimate ‘money shot’ for most of the Western world, and Zero Dark Thirty delivers on that even if the buildup is slow and in some places less than compelling.
The internal battling between the CIA suits – embodied by Mark Strong who at one point yells “We are failing! Bring me people to kill!” – is all too believable and the frustration felt by Maya as her superiors drag their feet at almost every turn is palpable.
Everything is well edited, and the camerawork is certainly worth taking a step back to admire. Whether or not this is a trip you need to take depends entirely on your world-view and tolerance for nitty-gritty investigative procedural process.