Quick Review: Zero Dark Thirty (dir. by Kathryn Bigelow)

zero-dark-thirty-releases-a-uk-poster-121641-00-1000-100I’m hoping this won’t be the only review for Zero Dark Thirty. I just happened to view it earlier, and these are my thoughts. As other reviews come in, they will more than likely be in depth.

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.

2 responses to “Quick Review: Zero Dark Thirty (dir. by Kathryn Bigelow)

  1. You say this film is based on actual events. That’s highly debatable.

    You say that it’s a brave move for Bigelow to simply throw up the story and let the audience decide. Sometimes I agree with such an approach, but just this once, I’m not sure if it’s correct. When dealing with an issue such as warfare, it’s much more courageous to choose a side in the debate.

    I also find it troubling that people cheered the climax. I can’t imagine that audiences in Australia will do the same.

    But I do find the tagline to be the most hyperbolic I’ve ever seen–and that’s saying something. The most wanted man in history? Erm…oooookay. I’m also pretty sure that Bigelow spent the last ten years making films and attending Oscar parties. I know that Bigelow herself didn’t come up with that tagline, but whoever did ought to be buried in a desert in Afghanistan, never to be found.


    • Thanks for the reply, Mark. Food for thought.

      Yes, that I did, which was based off of what I checked going into the movie. I agree with you, it is debatable and that you’re willing to further research the actual events is good. Not everyone does so. The phrase “Based on” could be used loosely, or tight. My thoughts are – my hopes are – that it would gain enough interest that other people would do the same.

      On the choosing sides, that statement reminds me of a line from Battle: Los Angeles. “You can go left, you can go right, I don’t give a damn. Just make a decision.” I can see what you mean about it being better to choose a side on warfare. I’d imagine decisions are made all the time in battle. I felt that in terms of the movie though, that safe route wasn’t a bad idea. Yes, they could’ve chosen a different direction, but I liked where they went. It’s all a matter of opinion. What worked for me may not catch for everyone else.

      The cheering at the climax could be perceived as unsettling. I can see how that can be viewed as such. You’re pretty much saying “Hey, we got this guy! And he’s dead! Woo Hoo!” Then again, I’m in NYC (the showing was in Midtown Manhattan), where most of people in my audience probably either had relatives or friends they lost in the 9/11 attacks. In that light, there’s probably a lot of animosity there, hence the reactions. I dont think anyone anywhere else would have quite the same set of reactions to the film, but I can’t speak for everyone on that.

      The tagline could be changed, I agree, but it’s also a matter of perspective. It’s like saying “Best Anything Ever” without taking into account anything that came before. Depending on your age range, the biggest manhunt in history could be anywhere between John Dillinger (if you’re lucky enough to live that long) to maybe David Berkowitz. Depends on who you ask, I say.


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