pecknt: Zero Dark Thirty Review

Posted: January 11, 2013 by pecknt in the american86's Movie Reviews


Director Kathryn Bigelow, known for the cult film Point Break, took a 180 in 2008 with the war drama The Hurt Locker. Bigelow managed to capture character development while building intense tension in a dramatic setting. When I had read the news that she decided to take a stab at the Osama Bin Laden hunt, I was relieved. If anyone was going to treat the source material correctly, it would be her based on her work in The Hurt Locker. She adds that same incredible professionalism and fantastic amount of detail to directing but fails to bring characters that elevate the story. Zero Dark Thirty is a raw film that is brutal, savage in nature and full of raw potential that never quite peaks what it should be.

Zero Dark Thirty starts with the chilling and emotionally tearful conversations of the passengers on the planes used in 9/11. This is a coy way of reminding the audience why this film is so important. From there we are introduced to Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young hot headed CIA operative obsessed with finding Bin Laden. Maya is teamed up with Dan (Jason Clarke) who is an officer in the United States military. In their findings through means of torture, they learn of a courier who delivers for Bin Laden himself. The courier is the only connection Bin Laden makes to the outside world, and is the only way of finding him. Maya goes through a ten year long goose chasing and finally after many friends lost and sacrifices finds the holy grail of intelligence, the compound hiding Bin Laden. The United States then sends in the famous SEAL Team Six (Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt to name a few)  to terminate Bin Laden.

Ultimately, I felt like Zero Dark Thirty left us in the dark with a lot of these characters (forgive the pun). Maya, who obsesses to an extreme level over the whereabouts of Bin Laden never has a reason to do so, beyond simply doing her job. She is not looking out for self-gain, financial gain and there is no emotional connection to 9/11 outside the fact it happened. This does not work because other supporting characters do not share the same intensity to their work. A minor character flaw, but really this becomes evident with every other character. None of them are fleshed out or are very interesting. Dan, who is involved in the film’s more painful moment in which he tortures a prisoner, is incredibly undeveloped. He does have one of the more interesting moments in the film when he shows sympathy and compassion to group of monkeys in the U.S. base. Bigelow does a great job subtly showing his emotional attachment to a group of monkeys and then playing deep into his aggressive state in the torture scenes.

Beyond those two characters, the rest of the cast is underwhelming. Kyle Chandler plays Joseph Bradley, a CIA Chief who never really does anything but look uninterested or bored. Chandler and Chastain share one of the better scenes in the film that captures Chastain’s acting ability when she rips apart the CIA for not doing enough. Mark Strong is in the film for a few moments, and again, is never capitalized on. A lot of the supporting characters more or less are there to move the plot along with a line of dialogue here or there, but the sheer amount of them bogs the pace of the film. Bigelow does a nice job of paying off the audiences’ patience in dialogue heavy moments with tension filled scenes that are a lot more predictable than I would’ve hoped for. However, the way they’re filmed, they are still impactful.

Now all this vehement criticism aside, there is one moment in this film that captivated me, the compound raid. Bigelow smoothly captures multiple SEAL members clearing this compound in a precise, even systematic way that really left me dazzled. She never glorifies the action, but films it realistically, so much so that any armed forces member would take appreciation to. The scene switches from night vision, to complete darkness,  all while building up the tension for the ultimate payoff. The compound raid is free from one of my biggest problems in Zero Dark Thirty, pacing. Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt play the main SEAL team members but beyond a few lines of dialogue, they do not make a real presence in the film. However, this does not hurt the scene in anyway and might be one of my favorite scenes in all of 2012.

Mark Boal’s screenplay is inconsistent and one of the weaker parts of Zero Dark Thirty. I do know that this film was being written after the 9/11 attack when the war first started. Once Bin Laden died, it was rewritten. This could be the problem here, as the screenplay is unpolished and the dialogue is lacking humanity. Boal’s third screenplay leaves a lot to be desired.

All said and done, I liked Zero Dark Thirty. I cannot say I necessarily enjoyed it but I was intrigued enough to want to see it through the end. Bigelow directs a wide scoping manhunt but puts character development in the background in order to show America’s un-wielding desire to get Bin Laden. Not only does the film play as propaganda, marking the negative notions America went through to stop Bin Laden (bribery and torture) but too often times indulges in a plot that succumbs to its biggest weaknesses, characters and pacing. Bigelow manages to catch your attention with her wonderful professionalism, and magnificent attention to detail. Zero Dark Thirty is a fascinatingly ruthless film that fails to ultimately entertain.


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review. A movie that needs to be seen and felt, to fully enjoy. Yeah, it’s controversial and hard-hitting, but it’s very thrilling in where it takes you and how it does so.

  2. Fantastic review, I’m seeing this soon – excited :D

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