Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty


When we all heard the news that terrorist/founder of al-Qaeda Osama bin Laden was killed, almost ten years after the 9/11 attacks, some asked “Wasn’t that yesterday’s news?” No, not really. For some it was a hunt that cost them over a decade…. Or in some cases, their lives. With Zero Dark Thirty, we get an up-close, inside look at what it took to bring down one of the most wanted terrorists of our lifetime. Raw, unflinching and totally cathartic, Zero Dark Thirty is not only a must-see movie for Americans, but for anyone who wants to know what happened in those ten years. Plus, it’s an amazingly well acted, well crafted film.

First off, this ain’t your mommy’s Homeland. Yes, that’s a great show (and I’m not ashamed to admit I’m completely addicted), but instead of being amped up as the credits roll, you’ll more likely be exhausted and wrung out from this experience.  That’s an incredible achievement. Like her movie The Hurt Locker, Director Kathryn Bigelow gives moviegoers the immersion experience, and leaves you feeling like you’ve lived the entire hunt along with those key players. Zero Dark Thirty is gritty, tiring and sometimes feels hopeless. You feel for the unknown agents and officers who died during this manhunt. And you see that trying to bring down the Bad Guy isn’t all badass tough guy posing, but heartbreaking work and decisions that could get you and/or your co-workers killed. Think about that the next time you bitch about a staff meeting.

So let’s get into the nitty-gritty. Yes, there are shocking scenes of torture…er, interrogation. Scenes so realistic my heart lept into my throat. Bigelow came under fire for an alleged “pro torture stance” in the film but anyone watching Zero Dark Thirty can hardly claim that those scenes are glorified. In fact, the disgust and horror some of the characters feel about their tactics comes across loud and clear. (There are also some grumbles by other characters when those tactics are censured, but I can only assume that’s from a place of historical truth and not Bigelow’s bias.) There are also allegations of partisanship (a topic that Georgetown University’s Bruce Hoffman discusses in his brilliant HufPo commentary), as well as the ever-popular “how’d they get that info?” dance that circles so many films involving American intelligence/armed forces.

Bigelow knows how to give an audience a realistic experience, and in this film there are many ways she nails it. Night Vision filters during the final scenes make it edge of your seat stuff. But what will suck you in instantly is Bigelow’s use of a real 9/11 call from a woman trapped in one of the buildings as the opening scene. It’s heartbreaking, and with the screen completely black, it’s impossible not to focus on the caller’s words.

The plot of Zero Dark Thirty keeps the adrenaline from that galvanizing opening and keeps viewers glued to the screen. Forget popcorn, because this movie pulls you in so completely you’ll forget you bought some. And though Jessica Chastain got an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of CIA operative Maya in Zero Dark Thirty (justifiably so), the film feels like an ensemble piece, with everyone giving their all. Oh, and one thing. FUCK YEAH JOHN BARROWMAN! He only has one or two lines in the film, but as a muckety-muck at the CIA the Torchwood star looks so butch! fantastic.

Other actors you’ll notice are James Gandolfini as a weary, believable Director of the CIA, Joel Edgerton (Warrior) and Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) as Special Forces operatives, Friday Night Lights Coach Taylor-for-life Kyle Chandler as CIA Station Chief Joseph Bradley, and the wonderful Jennifer Ehle from 2005’s penultimate Pride and Prejudice (wet t-shirt Mr. Darcy!) as a CIA operative that works with Maya.

With the Academy Award nominations announced for the year, it’s officially awards season. Make sure you catch Zero Dark Thirty; this will be one of the films everyone’s talking about. And you don’t want to be that person left behind in the office’s Oscar poll.

About Denise

Professional nerd. Lover of licorice.
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2 Responses to Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty

  1. urbannight says:

    Even thought I’m planning to watch most of the movies nominated for the various awards, this is one on the list of movies I will not see.


    • Yeah, it’s a very tough film to watch; it’s very realistic. A few scenes had me sitting on the edge of my seat with my hand at my heart.

      I love that Bigelow is able to get that reaction out of my jaded ol’ self. But yes, this movie isn’t for everyone.

      Meanwhile, I’ve got to get to Silver Linings Playbook! Missed the screening, and have been kicking myself over that ever since.


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