James Smith’s quick-fire insight into the world of movies exclusive to style-review.com

Here he checks out highly publicised and controversial, Zero Dark Thirty, starring Jessica Chastain as a CIA operative on the trail of Osama bin Laden.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler.

If one puts aside the political element for a moment, Zero Dark thirty is an entertaining and powerful thriller portraying a CIA agent’s obsession in pursuing Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks.  In a macho world full of starched collars and pumping good-guy biceps, the tenacious Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, forges through adversity and personal danger in a vendetta to track down the War on Terror’s most wanted culprit.  The simmering build-up and acting performances are without question gripping and from the top draw Hollywood can muster.  Kathryn Bigelow directs a superb cast, including Jason Clarke and Jennifer Ehle, to deliver a harrowing portrayal of pressure and passion within government and armed forces as they pursue the unseen enemy.

And yet Zero Dark Thirty is strangely vacuous in key areas.  The methods of torture, bribery and coercion are illustrated graphically, and yet the wider implications of such measures are left hanging in the air - as if the film makers themselves were uncertain as how to reconcile them.  A complex subject to broach in a movie perhaps, but unlike the similarly politically born creations of Syriana and Munich, appears to err more on the side of glam than reality.  Fine for audiences who are content to allow the Hollywood charms of Chastain to woe them into a world of girl done good in a badass country, but it may leave others flummoxed as to whether there is any real effort to address the moral dilemmas.  Indeed, it may be more comfortable to deem Zero Dark Thirty as just fiction - entertainment - since the smouldering performance of good-looking guys and gals in the desert wearing designer shades and hunting bad guys must surely be more akin to Top Gun than anything more serious.

A vigorous debate in the media has been rumbling as to whether or not the film promotes the use of torture.  If nothing else, Zero Dark Thirty, demonstrates that the morally wrong act of torture did not in fact lead to the capture of Osama bin Laden - dogged intelligence and detective work finally enabled access to the illusive foe.  Obama’s statement that America’s torturing days were over provided a convenient soundbite and turning point within the story, after which we are to assume that no nasty stuff was going on in the background and they got their bad guy through more palatable methods.  Make of that what you will.  Bigelow’s account takes a fine stab at letting the audience figure out their own standpoint morally, but inevitably, it’s a US-centric tale leaving a chasm of unanswered questions.

Finally, that’s all rather heavy, but one point that seems to have been missed by the critics is the awful CGI used for the nighttime helicopter raid.  In the approach through the desert valleys, the super stealth machines looked like they had been tacked on to celluloid - harking back to war movies of the 1940’s.  Admittedly, night scenes are a nightmarish challenge for cinematographers and VFX gurus alike, but after awesome helo flicks of the calibre of Black Hawk Down, we know Hollywood can to do better.

Review by @jsmithwriter