Zero Dark Thirty

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Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton
Country of Origin: USA 2012
Genre: Drama
Language: English 157 mins.
Rating: ****

'An edge of the seat riveting semi-documentary style drama focusing on CIA operative, Maya's (Jessica Chastain) obsession with Osama Bin Laden and spans the decade from 9/11 to his execution in 2011'.

Katherine Bigelow relates Maya's decade long obsession to the exclusion of all else. This is the world of CIA Black sites, extraordinary rendition and the torture of suspects. It's the world of President W.D. Bush. In the end it's Maya's persistence, psychological insight, intellect and intuition that nails her man.

Gillo Pontecorvo's 'Battle of Algiers' the vivid recreation of the Algerian struggle for independence shows the torture used by the French contrasted with the Algerian FLN's (National Liberation Front) use of bombs in shops and bars.Torture scenes are laid out without emotion or drama. The film was screened in 2003 at the Pentagon to give an insight into the challenges (terrorism, counter insurgency and the importance of torture in eliciting information) surrounding the US occupation of Iraq and to instruct senior military and their civilian advisers how you could 'win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas' Somehow it doesn't quite work in 'Zero Dark Thirty' even though Katherine Bigelow adopts a non-judgemental approach to the lengthy and detailed torture scenes with Maya observing rather than participating and her relationship with Dan (Jason Clarke), one of the interrogators remains neutral although he does later quit.

With the Obama administration conventional analysis replaces extraordinary rendition and the torture of suspects and it's that approach that gives Maya the crucial lead to Sheikh Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, Osama Bin Laden's courier. In May 2011 Navy Seal Team 6 entered a walled compound outside of Islamabad and killed Osama Bin Laden. Ironically Abu Ahmed's name was gained through torture.

'Zero Dark Thirty' is an absorbing and riveting semi-documentary style 157 minutes but it's seen from a memo released under the Freedom of Information Act that the CIA pressured script writer Mark Boal to remove certain scenes which cast the CIA in a negative light - a celebratory party drinking and firing AK-47s on the roof top of an Islamabad restaurant, the use of dogs in torture and any indication that Maya engaged in 'enhanced interrogation' (torture). Abu Gharaib and Guantanamo are of course well documented.

The cast are excellent, Jessica Chastain was made for the role,Dylan Tichenor's editing and Greig Fraser's cinematography are faultless and the Katherine Bigelow -Mark Boal combination have produced an edge-of-the-seat drama that's also a great PR job for the CIA.

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