Zero Dark Thirty (2012) – Review

3 Stars


Rookie CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) gets her first assignment closely after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The job is simple, find Osama bin Laden at any cost. She’s introduced to the war on terror by fellow CIA agent Dan (Jason Clarke), who uses the long leash Washington has bestowed upon the agency to get the information he needs using torture. An administrative changeover in Washington and a decade later Maya is certain she’s found the hiding place of bin Laden. Armed with only Maya’s guarantee the CIA pulls out all the stops – Seal Team 6 flies into Pakistan under the cover of night in bleeding edge stealth helicopters. There they mount a raid on a fortified mansion ending the manhunt for the most wanted man in the world.

After Bigelow’s rather ridiculous view on Army bomb squad soldiers I was fairly impressed with Zero Dark Thirty‘s far more realistic approach. Although it’s perhaps a little too realistic, and suffers from a sluggish and at times boring story that could be summed up in total in one page. Somethings make a better news story than a feature film. For all the ruckus about the torture scenes I thought they’d be far heavier than they were. Torture is clearly not a focal point of the film, but it is something that Bigelow does explore. How far is too far?

One thing I never understood about those speaking out about Zero Dark Thirty‘s “pro-torture” stance is why they don’t pick on the ending of the movie rather than the beginning. It’s not ok to torture but entering another country without their knowledge in the dead of night and raiding a house killing every unarmed man in it, all the while unsure if this is even the right person’s house – that’s fine? It’s nice to know where we draw the line.

I’m not going into detail on my thoughts as to what every little moment and turn means philosophically. What I will say is this is a far deeper movie than cynics are giving it credit for. Maya is a perfect example of an America blindsided by an attack, going on the offensive and left trying to figure out the next move. She is the focal point of the picture, stay with her, pay attention to the changing tactics and what fuels her determination.

Kathryn Bigelow has created a brilliant film full of strong actors and enough underlying thematic twists and turns for any hard thinker to ponder for months. Unfortunately the story gets stale, which the two and a half hour running time does nothing to help. Cut this down to an hour and a half to an hour and forty-five minutes and it would be one hell of a flick.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler

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