Think back to a time, not that long ago, when females were mainly allowed only in front of the camera, and not behind it. That began to change when Kathryn Bigelow started to deliver the likes of Point Break and Near Dark. Then, not only did she fully prove that a woman could direct, but that they could also encroach on territories normally associated only with men - action-based films - and that they could also win awards whilst doing so. Her The Hurt Locker put her up against her ex - James Cameron - at the Oscars, and she won.
Now Bigelow has returned to the genre that placed her firmly on the map and once again delves into the world of modern warfare. Except this time she's bringing abit more realism with her - more fact than fiction.
Not unlike TV's Homeland, here we have a strong female character with what appears to be a lifelong obsession that dominates her every waking and sleeping hour. On the small screen, Claire Danes' agent is driven by the feeling that she could have helped avert 9/11. Here upon the silver screen, Jessica Chastain is seeking closure on 9/11 by wanting to help close the book on the worlds largest, and what feels like as the events unfold, the longest manhunt ever.
Based on reports, accounts and documentation from relevant sources, here the story is not a simple search and destroy mission full of adventure. Instead, we have years of trawling loads of leads with most of them becoming dead ends. At times Chastain's characters frustration can be felt by the audience as information about similar sounding possible terrorists is presented again and again with what feels like little or no purpose or resolution. But then, what should we expect from a depiction of a true life manhunt that took thousands of days and millions of dollars to complete? Here, it's not a" trace a mobile phone call" and send in Jack Bauer once the relevant info has been uploaded to his PDA. Sources appear and disappear, clues are proven and disproven. Leads are followed and some too late - the London bombings being one of the attacks that is, as we know, not prevented.
Here, all is presented in a very straight forward fashion, almost to the style of a documentary. Many countries are visited but as they tumble across the screen, some begin to blur into others as the seemingly fruitlessness of the investigation begins to take hold. Then, after around two hours of this, Bigelow stops with the documentary and goes all Point Break action on the audience.
With stealth helicopters, night vision POV's, gunfire and expendable Bin Laden protectors, the last 40 minutes feels like a totally different film from what has gone before. She also, whilst ramping up the action and the tension, sneaks in a brave but ingenious factor of doubt as you watch these Marines perform their duty - is it as honourable as it should have been? Some actions are questionable but is that acceptable in the circumstances? The question is not answered but presented for you the viewer to make up your mind about it.
Great but not as powerful as The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty is a worthy addition to the ever-expanding and most welcomed cannon of Kathryn Bigelow.
UK release date: 25.01.13