Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
157 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler


Grade: A

The film opens with a black screen with a collage of voices from September 11, 2001. The voices are from people on the hijacked planes and 911 calls from those who were trapped in the World Trade Center buildings. It’s a tough thing to listen to and most certainly will bring back memories to exactly where you were during the attacks. Then the films fades to a CIA black site at an undisclosed location two years later where we meet our heroine, Maya, looking on as another CIA agent, Dan (Clarke), is interrogating a detainee.

There has been much chatter about how Zero Dark Thirty portrays torture in the film. Some say it glamorizes it and others say it shows the evils to the practice. What director Kathryn Bigelow masterfully does is that she stays neutral to the water-boarding. We all know that torture is wrong, but if it helped lead to the death of Bin Laden, will we admit it was worth it? What does that say about us?

The torture scenes right from the start also plays as a tool to see what kind of person Maya is right from the beginning. Her reaction to the water-boarding and her response to the detainee who asks for her help is more you’re going to learn about her than anything she says about her past, which is that all she’s ever concentrated on in the CIA on Bin Laden and also how she’s never had any friends.

For the majority of the film, we bounce around the world to different CIA black sites and watch a number of interrogations, but none that really give Maya any hard intelligence for an upcoming attack or where Bin Laden is hiding. Her bosses remain fierce on her especially when numerous bombings occur, such as the 2008 bombing of the Marriott Islamabad in Pakistan and the 2009 suicide bombing on Camp Chapman in Afghanistan.

Maya’s efforts and determination never go without notice, but the fact is that her main theory was a shaky one at best, and one that took years to actually gain a break that put her back on track to follow Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. But even after wire-tapping phones and actually locating Abu Ahmed in Pakistan, her supervisors still aren’t confident that everything will lead to Bin Laden. Maya states that she is 100 percent sure, but we’re able to put ourselves in the shoes of the other men in that room opposite of Maya. Even though, in the end, we know that this leads to the death of Bin Laden, at that specific moment in the meeting, I sure as hell wouldn’t have believed her.

After a year that really put woman in the front of cinema, 2012 went back to the traditional pattern and was a male-driven year. The only real exception is Zero Dark Thirty, with an incredible performance given by Jessica Chastain. She is one great, versatile actress and really produced a controlled portrayal of a strong woman in an extremely hard job. Even though The Hurt Locker was more in-depth with its main characters and how the war affected them, simply stating that a woman was in charge for tracking down Bin Laden speaks volumes.

Zero Dark Thirty contains a lot of very tense scenes, mostly understanding what is at stake during every meeting and every interrogation and that at any moment there could be another terrorist attack. And of course, the Navy SEAL raid at the end provides a very satisfying and suspenseful conclusion to a heavily serious movie. It’s hard to imagine this project being in the hands of someone else other than Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal. It wouldn’t have felt right to create a Hollywood film feel to the greatest manhunt in history and it most certainly didn’t have a crowd-pleasing ovation when the bad guy is finally killed (I’m sure Michael Bay would’ve had Maya wielding a gun and kicking down Bin Laden’s door). Instead, there was the heroine, Maya, sitting in front of a torn and bloodied American flag with tears streaming down her face. We were all happy when the news came out, but were any of us really satisfied?


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