Review: “Zero Dark Thirty” can be classified as ‘very good’

January 11th, 2013 at 12:34 am by under Entertainment

He was the United States’ most wanted man.   She was the one intelligence operative who didn’t give up on finding him.

Through director Kathryn Bigelow’s meticulous vision, we experience the exhaustive, and sometimes brutal journey that took ten years, cost millions of dollars, and saw many lives lost to find Osama Bin Laden.

A warning for parents and adults: the early scenes of interrogation and torture techniques depicted are unsettling and uncomfortable… and have already sparked controversy and political backlash.

“Zero Dark Thirty” poster courtesy Columbia Pictures

(My spoiler-free review)

“Zero Dark Thirty” is a walk through recent history from September 11, 2001 through a series of post-9/11 terror attacks around the world and the events leading up to Bin Laden’s death in May of 2011.

But its not just a retelling of events – some fresh in our minds, some jogged from our memory – the characters in our story are carefully weaved into this timeline, making it more real, more believable, and more impactful than just a mere “report” movie.

Whether they are just politicized or reasonably critiqued for their accuracy and importance …. the opening torture scenes are difficult to sit through.   Seeing a defenseless man struggle through waterboarding and other techniques are hard to watch.  The scenes are also tough to accept that such techniques were used considering that U.S. is supposed to be a country with higher moral standards that follows humane treatment of prisoners.  While the exact message of these scenes can be viewed in different ways, Bigelow at least does not glorify the interrogations.

The movie is also a puzzle mirroring the intelligence puzzle that the CIA was trying solve in the wake of 9/11, the movie audience, like the intelligence community has to wade through a lot of information and names in the beginning before the search gets narrowed down to a few people.

Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty” photo courtesy Columbia Pictures

At the center of our story is the CIA officer “Maya” (Jessica Chastain), who quickly adapts from smart D.C. agent to a grizzled veteran of the field… enduring many challenges and losses along the way.  Chastain is great as a strong, smart, charismatic lead female that isn’t in need of rescuing, just in need of help from those around her to complete the ten year mission.  We get how passionate she is to find Bin Laden and how everyone involved wanted results and was willing to take measurable risks to reach the goal… but there was an emotional, mental, and physical toll that it took on everyone.

That help comes from Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Mark Strong, Mark Duplass, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, and Edgar Ramirez.   The solid supporting cast is compelling and gets different levels of depth, but this is larger in scope than  “The Hurt Locker” (8.9), so its less powerful, there’s less of a connection with all the characters like Bigelow’s Oscar winner from 2009.  The final scenes involving the S.E.A.L. Team 6 operation that infiltrated the Bin Laden compound are superbly done and shows more of Bigelow’s attention to detail and efforts to take the audience “along for the ride”.

“Zero Dark Thirty” looks great – with incredible details in production values – cinematography (both old fashioned locked down cameras and handheld), editing, lighting, wardrobe, etc – its patriotic but not shoved down your throat/Michael Bay patriotism.


While its a long lead up to the main mission, the style of the storytelling is intriguing and entertaining to keep your interest to the end… I give it 8.0 out of 10… a movie that won’t have the wide ranging appeal of “The Hurt Locker” (8.9) and will make many uncomfortable or upset over its torture scenes, but is easily one of the best of 2012.

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):

“Zero Dark Thirty” photo courtesy Columbia Pictures

“Zero Dark Thirty”

(2012) (rated: R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language)
(2 hrs, 37 min)

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jason Clarke,
Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Mark Strong,
Mark Duplass, James Gandolfini, Edgar Ramirez

Director: Kathryn Bigelow ["The Hurt Locker" (8.9), Point Break (1991)]

Writer: Mark Boal

Genre: Drama/Action/History

The Plot: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May, 2011.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

“Zero Dark Thirty” poster and photos courtesy Columbia Pictures

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