"a hugely riveting, and tense war opus that is both thought provoking, shocking and entertaining in equal measure"

Since her Oscar glory back in 2009 with Hurt Locker, it’s fair to say director Kathryn Bigelow presumably felt a great deal of pressure for her follow up project. No one could have been more shocked when the woman who bought us cult classic Point Break in the early 90’s would eventually win big at the Oscars for her gut wrenchingly realistic portrait of a bomb disposal unit working in the Middle East, starring the then relatively unknown Jeremy Renner.

Having dabbled in various genres throughout her career, Bigelow really hit her stride in the telling of her modern war epic. Fast forward to 2011 and after the dust had settled on one of the most significant moments in the war on terror with the death of Osama Bin Laden, the idea of a film documenting these events was surely a no brainer and I imagine Hollywood was soon inundated with treatments for a pro American, all guns blazing, stars and stripes blockbuster directed by Brett Ratner or someone.

Fortunately, the movie we did end up with is Zero Dark Thirty, a hugely riveting, and tense war opus that is both thought provoking, shocking and entertaining in equal measure. The narrative of the film covers the time period from the tragic events of 9/11, which is cleverly recreated with sound as opposed to the standard montage of TV news footage, instead Bigelow is able to harness the harrowing nature of 9/11 with the noise of garbled telephone calls and news reports, up to the precise moment Bin Laden was killed in his Pakistani compound.

Like Renner in Hurt Locker, once again Bigelow has chosen wisely with her lead, this time round a female in the form of the gorgeous Jessica Chastain who drives the film from its inception to the closing sequence. It really is a monumental feat of acting on Chastains part, she delivers the role of someone whose life is obsessively devoted to the hunt for Bin Laden and progresses from a wet behind the ears field agent who hides behind her fingers at the torture she witnesses to a hardened professional, whose bull dog attitude and self-conviction ultimately lead them to the whereabouts of their elusive target.

Bigelow is a dab had at assembling a cracking supporting cast and Zero Dark Thirty offers a similar ensemble of unique characters who regardless of screen time appear as fully rounded individuals with depth and emotion, my only slight disappointment was the presence of so many famous faces, Hurt Locker succeeded in most part due to it’s cast of unknown faces which added to the believability of the narrative, however with ZDT, I found myself immediately pulled out of the story when John Barrowman turned up in a small role. Was there no one else who could have provided that one line of dialogue, must we get the grinning buffoon whose overly camp schtick regularly land him guest spots on TV panel shows…why not go the whole hog and cast Louis Spence in the role of Bin Laden.

It’s a small niggle though, and luckily Barrowman is only in it for about a 1 minute by which time you’ve completely forgotten about his appearance and get stuck back into the action, which Bigelow handles deftly and with no sense of theatrics, its raw, real and sometimes incredibly shocking, particularly an edge of your seat rendezvous between a team of CIA agents and a supposed mole buried deep in Al Quaeda.

The narrative progresses at just the right pace, allowing audiences to familiarise themselves with the real life historical backdrop as the characters experience it rather than skipping ahead and leaving audiences to fill in the gaps. It’s an emotional, and often exasperating journey for the characters as well as us , the audience, as the hunt for Bin Laden becomes something of a fantasy, and it looks as though all hope is lost but we know the history, we know what happens and soon the dramatic and nail biting third act is upon you.

It’s surely the freshest moment in our collective memory, suddenly all the headlines in the papers, all the news reports and images we’ve seen online converge and what Bigelow manufactures is the closest and most realistic experience of that infamous night time strike one can imagine. At one point I even had a feeling of what it must have been like when President Barack Obama and his team were gathered to watch via the helmet cam footage of one of the Seals, it’s both frightening, heart pounding and scarily real.