Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
  • Time: 157 min
  • Genre: Drama | History | Thriller
  • Director: Kathryn Bigelow
  • Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton


Maya is a CIA operative whose first experience is in the interrogation of prisoners following the Al Qaeda attacks against the U.S. on the 11th September 2001. She is a reluctant participant in extreme duress applied to the detainees, but believes that the truth may only be obtained through such tactics. For several years, she is single-minded in her pursuit of leads to uncover the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama Bin Laden. Finally, in 2011, it appears that her work will pay off, and a U.S. Navy SEAL team is sent to kill or capture Bin Laden. But only Maya is confident Bin Laden is where she says he is.


  • Joe O'Loughlin

    (written 1/11/13)

    “Zero Dark Thirty”: That Kathryn Bigelow sure can tell a story!

    She can really direct actors, too. I felt like I was inside the skin of the major characters, watching it all unfold right in front of me. Edge-of-my-seat stuff almost every minute. I had to consciously get a grip on my breathing toward the end because I was having heart palpitations. For real. (Too much chocolate?)

    And it all seemed so authentic. I don’t know a lot about SEALS in the field (we embarked a small stick if them for a few days once off Viet Nam, bussing them from some shit hole to another), but I heard one say once, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is quick.” At first I thought it was just some California surfer Zen bullshit toss-off comment he had made, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me. And the actors did just that in the climactic scene, BEFORE achieving their primary objective. They didn’t shift into flank speed/asses-&-elbows mode until they began executing their secondary objective, after the danger had diminished.

    That kind of adherence to reality impressed me. The real deal had so many moving parts, and she made every piece of tradecraft, every small(?) moral dilemma, every nuance of everyday office politics seem so important and entertaining.

    And one more thing: she was ROBBED when it came to handing out Oscar nominations. Fucking robbed. Period. I have a good friend attending the Golden Globes on Sunday. I hope she gets some recognition there.

    So Kevin, if U read this, and U happen to meet Ms. Bigelow, tell her I’m available.

  • “Can I be honest with you? I am bad fucking news. I’m not your friend. I’m not going to help you. I’m going to break you. Any questions?”

    Depicting one of the greatest manhunts of all time a decade in the making, Zero Dark Thirty was meticulously executed from page to screen by director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter-producer Mark Boal; but the factual inaccuracies and poorly written protagonist muddled the “movie of the year.”

    Zero Dark Thirty – a title referring to the military term for 30 minutes after midnight – opens to a blackout screen with incoming calls from 9/11 victims in the World Trade Center. Some critics argued that the opening was a cheap gimmick, but the blackout with panicked voices crying, “I’m going to die, aren’t I?” was more effective and tactful than a flashback montage of the actual events surrounding September 11, 2001.

    Fast-forward two years later to the US Embassy in Pakistan, where we meet CIA officer Maya (Jessica Chastain). As a woman tackling a high profile assignment in a fully male environment – not a far stretch for director Bigelow – Maya’s ability to handle the assignment of tracking Osama bin Laden is initially questioned by her male counterparts; but they are assured that “Washington says she’s a killer.”

    Here’s where the immense controversy of the film begins: the interrogation of Amaar, a captured detainee with links to Saudi terrorists. Unwilling to talk or cooperate, alternative methods of interrogation are explored and visualized, including a brutal depiction of waterboarding. The controversy surrounding this is that not only are these methods of interrogation unlawful and banned, but apparently they mislead viewers to think that these tactics were responsible in obtaining crucial facts of bin Laden’s courier and his whereabouts…especially when a detainee willingly states, “I no longer wish to be tortured; I’ll tell you whatever you need to know.”

    Dianne Feinstein (head of the Senate Intelligence Committee) requested information and documents regarding the CIA’s cooperation in obtaining information from detainees. After reviewing “more than six million pages of CIA records,” a letter was sent to filmmakers explaining that the film is immorally misleading, making audiences believe that extreme torture helped the CIA in obtaining the necessary information to capture OBL.

    Bigelow has received enormous backlash for this scene alone. What’s additionally being noted is that torture simply doesn’t work and mostly leads to false confessions. A 2006 study by the National Defense Intelligence College concluded that “traditional, rapport-building interrogation techniques are very effective even with the most recalcitrant detainees, but coercive tactics create resistance.”

    I have no problems with movies “based on real events” stretching the truth for dramatic purposes. Like I said in reviewing Argo, if the film presents what happens, but tweaks the details to keep the thrills up, that’s okay—it’s a movie. But ZD30 bends serious facts in one of the most heated and still very relevant cases in history. If we’re critiquing this film on a movie-review perspective, this fact bending is not my biggest complaint. Bigelow’s portrayal of the Navy SEALs invasion into the bin Laden compound proves more realistic than theatrical…no cheap thrills or gimmicks…she slaps the viewer in the middle of what appeared to be just another call of duty. Where the film fails for me is with its protagonist—Maya.

    Jessica Chastain failed to deliver the powerhouse performance that I anticipated, but my opinion on her performance falls in the minority, as many praise her subtle depiction of Maya. Maya is a controlled character with a drive far surpassing that of her male colleagues. We know little about Maya outside of her assigned duties, except that she has no personal life.

    While she is described as a “killer” in the film, I wasn’t buying what Bigelow was trying to sell. Maya’s attention to detail and relentless drive is undeniable, but her character didn’t make me care about the mission, or her own struggle. There was little emotional connection with her, nothing that made me leap for joy over her victory in the end.

    This is where Hollywood can stretch the truth: a little theatrical flare may have changed my opinion of the character, whose real life identity is heavily under wraps. In Bigelow’s other highly lauded war film, The Hurt Locker, Jeremy Renner portrayed a man so afflicted by the pain of war that he single-handedly made me give a damn about the movie. Understandably, Maya and Sergeant William James are different characters with completely different roles in fighting the war on terror. But a little theatrical outburst of anger or sorrow from Maya instead of a subdued, controlled few tears may have made all the difference.

    ZD30 is well executed and deserves the attention it has garnered—both negative and positive. It’s worth talking about, but failed to meet the high expectations I had from the mighty Bigelow.

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