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Movie Review: 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Zero Dark Thirty

Starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chander
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Rated R


Kathryn Bigelow’s career, prior to the release of her Oscar winning film The Hurt Locker, was pretty uninspiring and well, mediocre.  Sure she made the guilty pleasure known as Point Break, but she also made K-19: The Widowmaker...yeah not great.  But it was with The Hurt Locker that she found a subject that brought out something different in her filmmaking:  The war on terror.   It was a great film.  A film that captured a side of a soldier and of a war that sometimes gets little notice.   Well, seeing that her work in that area was unfinished, she comes back with Zero Dark Thirty, whose subject matter was the very reason why we started waging a war in the Middle East: Osama bin Laden.  

 Let me start off by saying that one shouldn’t expect Zero Dark Thirty to be the chest thumping American pride film that one might expect from a movie that deals with the search and eventual demise of bin Laden.  This is a movie about mistakes, about frustration, about the ugliness that can come with searching for the man responsible for making all of us see the world through with a different frame of mind.  The movie is as cold and calculating as its lead character Maya (Jessica Chastain).  That works in its favor for a lot of the film, but it also makes it something less of an achievement than The Hurt Locker.

Zero Dark Thirty begins 2 years after Sept 11th and begins in a way that I don’t think could’ve been avoided or nor should it have: with the interrogation of a suspected Al-Qaeda prisoner by a C.I.A agent simply known as Dan (Jason Clarke).  We’ve all heard the stories about the techniques that were used as methods of interrogation and Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t shy away from that.   Maya is present for this and she’s not entirely comfortable at first with what is going on. But she and maybe you the audience comes to the realization that sometimes methods are necessary to gather information that could stop further tragedy.  It’s at this point the movies sets the tone for the rest of the film.  As you are out there fighting the good fight, you also put yourself in a position of not only danger, but having to throw emotion out the window. 

Thirty also wisely eschews a political agenda (and even avoids name dropping) and simply lays out the ten year manhunt and the mistakes that were made along with the other attacks that happened during this time.   You as the audience really start to feel the frustration as the hunt for bin Laden looks more and more like a fruitless endeavor.  Much of this credit goes to Chastain for nailing her role as Maya; a character that wants nothing more than to see bin Laden burn.  This is her life and she’s more than ok with that.  Zero Dark Thirty is a cat and mouse game and know that Thirty isn’t an action movie and only in the last 30 minutes does the film strap on it’s action gear as the raid on bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound happens. 

The movie is also filled with good, but brief supporting roles.  From Mark Strong, James Gandolfini (as an upper level C.I.A agent and the C.I.A Director) and Kyle Chander as the Pakistan station chief to Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton as members of Seal Team Six.  There is a part of me that wishes they all had more screen time but the way the movie is laid out it would’ve ended up being disingenuous.  Plus, this is Maya’s movie, as she’s the one with the singular determination to wanting to see the end finally play out. 

But the cold calculating nature of the movie also works against it.  Yes, you feel the frustration, but you also feel like a complete outsider.  You didn’t feel that way with the Hurt Locker and that’s why it’s a better movie.  But Zero Dark Thirty, despite its 2 hour 40 minute run time, doesn’t overextend its welcome.   Yes you know the ending walking in, but it’s also a fascinating ride watching the film reach that ending.  

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