Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

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It's a shame that the quality of Zero Dark Thirty has been somewhat overshadowed by the controversy surrounding its depiction of torture as an effective method of interrogation. It's hard to grasp why we're expected to believe that torture wasn't an integral part of the United States's ability to prise critical information out of detainees whose lives almost surely depended on keeping such information to themselves, anyway. Concentrating energy on this one matter diminishes the rest of the story. Based on insider accounts, Zero Dark Thirty focuses mainly on one CIA agent, Maya (played by the always exquisite Jessica Chastain), who is deeply involved in the search for Osama bin Laden. The film functions beautifully as a companion piece to director Kathryn Bigelow's previous effort, The Hurt Locker. Both films feature characters so ensconced in their work that they struggle to assimilate into life outside of it.

Taking place over a number of years leading up to bin Laden's assassination in 2011, the film follows Maya as she pursues leads that she is often told will take her nowhere. Maya is smart and relentless in her goal. We watch as her job becomes her life, so much so that when what should be her moment of triumph occurs, what we see instead is a person who now has nowhere to go, no purpose. Zero Dark Thirty boasts a particularly strong cast and an intelligently written screenplay. Here's hoping the torture talk dies down and more appreciation for this movie is allowed to grow.


From the director of The Hurt Locker, Point Break, and a bunch of other movies about dudes and starring dudes, comes a movie about a chick starring a chick. Weird. Zero Dark Thirty revolves around the manhunt for Osama bin Laden, and with that information at my disposal, I suspect the only real question on people's minds is: Are they going to show him? I'm not going to tell you that, but I will tell you: We got him.

Much like Lincoln, there is very little that could have been done with this film to make me like it. A film about US intelligence carrying out a series of reconnaissance missions sounds about as exciting to me as a film about US reconnaissance carrying out a bunch of intelligence missions, especially when you already know the ending. As much as I loved Jessica Chastain in last year's The Help and The Tree of Life, her role in this film was of little interest to me, and although I had a lot of respect for Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, that respect didn't have me chomping at the bit for another 2 hours chock full of camouflaged people running between tents in the sand. Zzz.

But Zero Dark Thirty isn't chock full of people running between tents in the sand. It features a lot of shots of people walking down really nice hallways, and a couple of scenes featuring terrorists being water boarded and stuffed into tiny boxes in a dingy 2 car garage. Sometimes people are in conference rooms, hunched over a table, analyzing a map. There's even one lovely scene where 2 people go out for dinner in a really nice restaurant that is later blown to smithereens.

When I nestled in to watch Zero Dark Thirty, I made the decision that I was really going to pay attention, and really make an effort to keep up with it, a luxury I don't give all films. I figured it would be riddled with impenetrable military jargon and impossibly complicated setups and action scenes. It contains all of these things. However, what I quickly came to realize was that all of these things were secondary to the simple story of a young woman struggling to be taken seriously amidst a sea of intimidating people who are trying to ignore her. Chastain plays Maya, a young CIA officer who is obsessed with the hunt for Osama bin Laden, with such relentless abandon, we can't help but to immediately be on her side and want to see her succeed. As such, the actual hunt for and finding of bin Laden functions as a reward for her resilience more than anything else. Chastain and director Kathryn Bigelow both bring a great amount of humanity to the "the story of history's greatest manhunt for the world's most dangerous man," which is ironic in that the film is filled with long episodes of inhumanity as well.

Zero Dark Thirty stands not only as a masterpiece in the action thriller genre, but also as a masterpiece in the underdog overcoming obstacles genre. Bigelow is obviously more than capable of giving us heart-stopping suspense, which Zero Dark Thirty is chock full of. The surprise that lies at the heart of Zero Dark Thirty, however, is that Kathryn Bigelow has a heart.


Zero Dark Thirty is an extremely powerful and upsetting story of how one woman spent 11 years tracking Osama bin Laden. This feels like the most important film of the year, as it is so relevant to today, both in subject and in the amazing speed at which a story like this can be exposed in cinematic form. It is also a new and interesting style of war film that does not take sides. America is not portrayed as the hero, and no political side within America is viewed as more righteous. The central "heroine", played wonderfully by Jessica Chastain, is strong yet realistically fragile. We see her struggle to maintain strength in facing challenges from the external Al Qaeda forces as well as from the internal forces of her CIA cohorts who often undermine her. This really caters to my feminist heart.

Kathryn Bigelow has a way of stripping away all gloss presenting us with a cold, gritty drama only attractive in its cinematography. She gives us the most uncomfortable aspects of this story including extensive scenes of American torture tactics and a final climactic disturbing scene featuring children witnessing the brutal murder of their family when bin LadenŐs home is finally ambushed.

The pacing in this film never lets up. We feel suspense and horror throughout. Another brilliant score by Alexandre Desplat gorgeously accents every suspenseful scene and adds to the sorrowful and foreboding elements of the film.