Posted by: ckckred | January 23, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow's newest film is one of the year's best

Kathryn Bigelow’s newest film is one of the year’s best

Back in 2009, a film came out that revolutionized modern day cinema.  That movie was The Hurt Locker, which not only was the best war film of the last ten years but one of the best films to come out from the past decade.  It surprised audiences with its gritty violence and packed tension.  And by the 2010 Oscars it surprisingly (and deservingly) won Best Picture, which is the one of the best moves the Academy has made.

So my hopes were very high for Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker.  Bigelow reunites with Hurt Locker writer Mark Boal for the film, plus has gathered up  an A-list cast, including Jessica Chastain (who is my favorite working actress), Kyle Chandler, and James Gandolfini.  Bigelow was given the subject that seemed impossible for a film today: Bin Laden’s death.  It’s been a few years since Seal Team 6 killed the infamous terrorist, and a film like that was bound to gain much coverage and difficulty in making.  I was worried that Zero Dark Thirty would be disappointing, that maybe Bigelow may be trying to achieve something out of her reach.

That is not the case.

If anything, a good argument could be made that Zero Dark Thirty surpasses the quality of The Hurt Locker, which is saying much.  Zero Dark Thirty is a tense, magnificent film that’s one of the most powerful and best films I’ve seen from 2012. Earlier this year, another film dealing with the Middle East came out, Argo.  While both movies are great, Zero Dark Thirty is, at least for me, the far superior film.

The movie opens up with a black screen, with the audio of phone calls from 9/11 playing in the background.  Soon, the movie fast forwards to two years later.  Maya (Chastain), a cold, hard, CIA agent, oversees the torture of a suspected terrorist in Pakistan who may know some vital information about Al-Qaeda.  The film keeps progressing with Maya unraveling multiple suspected terrorists, names, events, until she finally discovers what may be Osama Bin Laden’s hideout.

The audience knows what happens next (and if you don’t consider this a spoiler’s alert).  The climax of the film is the Seal Team 6 attack on Bin Laden’s home, which is the best directed scene I’ve seen all year (how Bigelow was snubbed for director is beyond me).  The movie plays off the tension in a similar mood to the TV show Homeland (Clair Danes’ character Carrie from the show is actually based off Maya- the real person).  Both use conversations and debates to add intensity into the moment.  Zero Dark Thirty acts as a thriller whereas The Hurt Locker was a war movie.  It plays off the audience and knows what gets inside viewers’ heads.

The movie has gathered much controversy over its depiction of torture.  There are a few scenes of waterboading, which has garnered many complaints from US senators saying that the United States government does not torture prisoners (the movie also has features a clip from an interview of Obama back in 2008 discussing torture).  But I don’t believe Zero Dark Thirty neither celebrates nor attacks the U. S. government.  Some critics have also claimed that the CIA also gave Bigelow some confidential documents for the film, which is actually untrue.  Boal didn’t get any information from the CIA, and attacking the movie for a false point is wrong.

Jessica Chastain gives a powerful performance as Maya and helps strengthen the film.  I’ve said before about my admiration for her in films like The Tree of Life, and she’s perfect here.  I don’t think many actresses could have been able to have done the role, and Chastain does it perfectly.  She’s cold, hard, and tough in the role, but never over-exaggerates her character nor acts too lightly.  Maya is described in the movie as a “cold-hearted killer,” and delivers some of the movies’ finest lines (my favorite: “I’m the mother****** who found this place”).  Her performance is one of the strongest I’ve seen all year and I believe she deserves to win the Oscar.

Overall, Zero Dark Thirty is a triumph, a powerful film that’s one of the finest movies of the year.  Bigelow has proved herself to be a great director, and I eagerly await her next feature.


  1. Great write-up. I’m going to watch this this weekend so thanks for the review!

    • Thanks! This film is great and it ranked on the upper part of my top 10 for 2012.

  2. Nice review. Definitely one of the best of the year and one of the main reasons why, given the right script and inspiration, Kathryn Bigelow can make one hell of a movie. Tension and all, baby.

    • Thanks! Bigelow has really proven herself to be a powerhouse of a director. She should have gotten a Best Director Oscar nomination.

  3. I agree. One of the years best. Razor sharp!

    • It was great and I think this might even top The Hurt Locker. Thanks for commenting.

  4. A fine movie indeed. Agree that the Hurt Locker was also amazing.

    • Yeah, both films are great. I think this one is even better than The Hurt Locker, and that’s saying much. Thanks for commenting.

  5. I really loved Chastain’s performance, but I think the film’s dialogue falls in love with itself too much. I squirmed in my chair when Chastain said, “I’m the motherf—er who found the place.” Also, I get that the film is a somewhat journalistic account of the events, but most of the scenes that did not include Maya felt flat and uninteresting to me.

    • The dialogue really worked for me, but I’m glad you agree Chastain was great here. She deserves to win the Oscar for this role. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Great information. I knew ZDT was critically appraised, but didn’t know its connection to the Hurt Locker, which simply blew me away, including Jeremy Renner’s performance. (Unfortunately he seems to be picking cheesy roles now like that new Hansel and Gretel movie.) Now I have another must see movie to add to my list!

    • I think ZDT may be even better than THL, which is saying much. Renner was great in that, but he hasn’t really picked any strong roles afterward. This is definitely a movie to see and I think you’ll really like this. Thanks for commenting.

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