On May 1st, 2011, news spread around the United States as President Barack Obama announced that a successful operation was completed that resulted in Osama Bin Laden’s death. Academy Award Winning Director Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is the story of the events leading up to that operation. This is by far one of the trickiest reviews I’ve ever had to write, considering this isn’t a fictional tale, but one based on actual events. Additionally, in trying to tell you about this, even though you know what happens, I’m leaving out tons of details so that the audience can be surprised. In short, Zero Dark Thirty is easily my front runner for Best Picture and Director this year (and this is coming from someone who enjoyed Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook this year). I enjoyed it so much that right after seeing it today, I went back in for a 2nd showing.
Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t apologize for anything that occurs in the film. There are actions that may have viewers wincing or possibly questioning the motives behind them. At the same time, it doesn’t really try to glorify anyone either. There are no congratulatory celebrations like you’d find in a Michael Bay film. There’s no one approving of nor condemning in this. There’s just a target, and the people are who are – by whatever means they can – trying to eliminate that target, no sugar coating required. I like to think it takes a bit of courage to throw that up there for audiences. I’m not really certain there’s any other way they could have told it without causing some kind of upset. Unlike Act of Valor, which favored the Military Forces presented on screen, Zero Dark Thirty kind of showcases Seal Team 6 as just a group of guys that need to go in and do a job. It may be considered the safe road in having the distance there, but I felt it worked over all.
Jessica Chastain carries the film as Maya, a CIA Operative who makes it her mission to get UBL. I’ve never seen Chastain’s other films, but she comes across with such ferocity in this movie as it process as it’s hard to ignore her and I’ll probably keep an eye out for her other work. Jason Clarke (Brotherhood) also plays an operative who works with her. Zero Dark Thirty has a great ensemble cast that includes Mark Strong (Green Lantern), James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Chris Pratt (Wanted), Jennifer Ehle (Contagion), Edgar Ramirez (The Bourne Ultimatum), among others. It didn’t feel like anyone missed a beat on this.
The movie moves at an even pace. It felt long the first time I watched it, but considerably shorter the second time. Mark Boal’s script is pretty lean, moving from scene to scene with ease, which may actually be more to Bigelow’s credit. The first audience I saw the film with gave it tons of applause at the climax of the film – the actual raid done in a mixture of night time shots and night vision camera shots - and at the end credits. The second group only clapped at the end credits. I imagine there’s going to be mixed responses all around.
Zero Dark Thirty is getting some serious praise from Hollywood and condemnation from political officials, from what I’m seeing online. Yes, the movie does contain scenes of torture, but perhaps my having seen too many horror films, I didn’t quite feel that what was displayed was really that bad. As I saw the film without knowing any of the historical background of the actual events, the movie worked for me as a tense drama. It’s altogether possible that others may feel differently when viewing it, and that’s okay.
Overall, if you’re able to find a theatre that’s playing the film during this preview period, it’s worth seeing. The movie will open in wide release on January 11.