Review: Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty' an Impeccable Recount of History

January 11, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

It doesn't matter that you already know Point Z, President Obama announcing to the world that Osama Bin Laden had been tracked down and killed by American forces. It's Point A through Point Y that make Zero Dark Thirty, the film that lays out the steps of the greatest manhunt in US history, such a pulsating and intense story. It's the first-rate direction from Kathryn Bigelow that makes this telling of this story so fantastic. Marrying fact with presumed estimations, and never letting on which is which, it transcends its procedural framework, making Zero Dark Thirty one of the finest cinematic achievements of 2012. Read on!

Leading an all-star cast of CIA operatives, company men, and soldiers is Jessica Chastain as Maya - probably not the real person's true name - an analyst who comes into the hunt for Bin Laden mid-interrogation. Maya has some getting used to the tactics being used, but it isn't long before she has made it her mission to find and take out the top Al Qaeda member while pencil pushers are concerning themselves with when the next attack is going to take place. It's a grueling task for the young analyst, but as history tells us, her actions ultimately pay off. It's in the grueling task that director Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal find their story.

Procedurals aren't often successful. They rarely have the flesh or weight behind them to allow the audience to truly engage with their characters, but the nature of Zero Dark Thirty almost makes it a necessity. We aren't meant to know the real identities of these people. We shouldn't know what their home life or families are like, just the painstaking determination of the individuals behind the mission. To make the mission as real as possible seems to have been priority for Boal and Bigelow, who collaboratively made boots on the ground so tense in 2009's The Hurt Locker.

Zero Dark Thirty - Jessica Chastain

And the success of The Hurt Locker's naturalism is clearly what made Boal and Bigelow the perfect choices to bring the Zero Dark Thirty story to life. Though the torture scenes are nothing we haven't seen before - 24 had a nice hand in making water-boarding seem like a trivial form of persuasion - the strength of their execution cannot be denied. Each location, every room, all that Bigelow puts on the screen cries realism, and if even a coffee cup is out of place, only true CIA agents would know for sure.

The story moves quickly. It has to, having to cover nearly a decade in just over two and a half hours of screen time. The writer/director team do a masterful job incorporating the main breaks, subsequent terrorist attacks after 9/11, and encumbering politics that would eventually put Bin Laden in a body bag. All of this leads to those final moments, when soldiers stormed Bin Laden's compound under cover of night, and if the first two hours of Zero Dark Thirty are intense, the final act is one, continuous chill down the spine of the audience's back.

Without a doubt, Chastain turns in the best performance, male or female, of the year. Convincing as a timid analyst in the film's early moments, she effortlessly transforms her character into a hardened veteran, allowing us to never question the vengeful turn her character takes towards Bin Laden and Al Qaeda as a whole. Liberties - or maybe not - are taken to put Maya in the center of danger, a few surprise attacks that keep the film's momentum at a continuous high. Even in these action-heavy sequences, Chastain's talents never falter, and the actress proves she could one day become an action star to go right along with being one of the best dramatic talents working today.

Zero Dark Thirty - Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton

The rest of the cast is equally convincing with performances from Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, and Kyle Chandler standing out. However, it's Jason Clarke as an interrogation specialist who gives Chastain the only run for her money in the film. He's somber, quiet, almost reflective in the moments when he's not trying - and succeeding - to be intimidating. It's only during a moment Clarke shares with a monkey and an ice cream cone that shows a comedic side and proves that a full movie about the ins and outs of his character would be extremely welcome.

But that would go against the enigmatic nature of this intense and very realistic procedural. The best stories about history let you in on the finale but still keep you invested all the way through, never letting the knowledge of its outcome put a damper on something truly remarkable. Zero Dark Thirty is just such a story, and with a first-rate screenplay, faultless direction - In all her able years behind the camera, athryn Bigelow has never been this impeccable - and the best single performance of the year, it's an irreproachable film from start to finish.

Jeremy's Rating: 10 out of 10

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This movie was American disinformation at it's best

Topher Riley on Jan 11, 2013


So which one is it then? It is or it was ? Maybe it will be ?

horsin'around on Jan 12, 2013


This movie is American disinformation at it's best!

Topher Riley on Jan 11, 2013


This movie is American disinformation at it's best!!

Topher Riley on Jan 11, 2013


Celebrating torture in all its glory. Disgusting film in my opinion.

Kinks! on Jan 11, 2013


Surprised at all the negative comments, I for one can't wait to watch this!

Efterklang on Jan 11, 2013


Is that.....the The Star Spangled Banner on your chest...?

David Banner on Jan 12, 2013


I don't see it. What was so good about Chastain in this movie? The movie itself was fine...but 10/10? Jeez...No.

Spencer Lindenman on Jan 11, 2013


Oliver Stone on "Zero Dark Thirty":

Marty on Jan 11, 2013


Thanks for that...

zey on Jan 11, 2013


I wonder if this is how americans rate movies that have something to do with their land, soldiers, it exaggerated?

David Darida on Jan 11, 2013


A movie that depicts Americans cruelly torturing captives around the world, depictions which have earned countless condemnations from American patriots and politicians? Yeah, you got this one pegged, total American ego-stroking. USA! USA!

wafffles on Jan 11, 2013


USA can't have enough of anything...

David Darida on Jan 13, 2013


I loved this movie, it was really great. Also the 20 so minutes of the "raid" is very intense if you get into the movie.

IamSlave on Jan 11, 2013


Topher - I feel like I'm not getting the nuance of your message. Can you please repeat it one more time? Thanks.

psc44 on Jan 11, 2013


I loved it. One of the best films of the year. I don't care if this is CIA Propoganda or Hollywood Sensationalism because it's damn good to watch. It's a movie. Plain and simple folks. Torturing hostages has been around alot longer than the CIA or America so take it easy folks.

Tyler Bannock on Jan 11, 2013


It may be a fine "movie" but calling it an "Impeccable Recount of History" seems dubious.

Drew on Jan 11, 2013


I felt it was very good. I do not see what the issue is. Do people in this country believe we did not torture people after 9/11. Even after the pictures and everything else that has happened since. I cannot believe anyone is that naive.

frank on Jan 11, 2013


No one is even remotely saying that. They criticize the film for depicting torture as useful in this particular case of killing Osama Bin Laden which according to everything we know is just not true. Is the film PRO torture? It's not clear cut but I lean toward no. I think the film is interested in the question of obsession and what it takes to get something done. So the question of you as a film goer is are you okay with a film when the creators claim its "journalistic"? When it's based on real events, but perpetuates falsehoods to get some point across? Is drama more important than truth or is that not even the right question? Can one follow the truth AND still get ones point across. It's up to the viewer I suppose. I honestly go back and forth with this film. For me it was just so good that I have major cognitive dissonance going on. I followed this whole story before so I know the truth and can tell when a film is trying to embellish for the sake of telling it's own story, but can the average person? Is my mom going to come away from this film agreeing with the CIA operatives in the film who wish they could still torture so they could find terrorists easier? Is she going to go "Well yeah it's dirty, but someones got to do it!"

Brice Gilbert on Jan 11, 2013


Impeccable recount of history? No American citizen knows what truly happened.....if you actually believe everything the media tells u i feel sorry for you.

Cody W on Jan 11, 2013


Just more American propaganda. 9/11 was an inside job, facilitated by the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal, along with their international affiliates - Pakastani ISI and Mossad. Bin Laden actually had very little to do with 9/11. And for those that don't believe me, show me the proof. And don't say "the government told us so." on Jan 11, 2013


ah i knew at least one of you guys were going to show up....

Jericho on Jan 12, 2013


Just as I knew one of the sheeple would chime in. Your retort is moot. Do the research and stop being so fucking glib. on Jan 12, 2013


Believing in conspiracy theories is a form of mental disorder.Do the research.

Sheeple on Jan 12, 2013


lol, in what way? How is it a mental disorder? Maybe instead of trolling the internet, you should actually look into some of this stuff. I'm no conspiracy nut, but there are indeed a lot of questions about 9/11, none of which the government has fully answered. See the website "architects and engineers against 9/11."

Jepp on Jan 13, 2013


So it's easier to believe that the gubermnt or some rogue branch of it orchestrated a complicated scheme to commit a mass murder of civilians ,which would mean numerous number of people keeping quiet ,in order to go to war and to establish a police state than to accept the fact they simply dropped the ball or maybe,maybe ignored the intelligence reports about some raggedy bunch of terrorists with a much simpler plan (in comparison to over complicated black op) to attack USA ? Yeah I see how in some twisted way that is much more comforting compared to horrifying actuality of USA being vulnerable to some bunch of poor people from a third world country. No,conspiracy theories are not crazy,not in the slightest. By the way,when was the last time the gubermnt was efficient at doing anything?

another troll on Jan 13, 2013


It takes a blind, dumb and deaf man(or a stereotypical American) not too see how many rights weve lost since 9/11 and the following patriot act. Give me a break, you dont even have to look into it to see that something sinister has been up with the US since Reagan signed Agenda 21 in the 80s. But Fox told you what you know, so theres really no point in trying to argue.

Cody W on Jan 13, 2013


There you go like a typical conspiracy nut,you assume. I don't watch TV . Something sinister has been up with the US since world war two or even way back when.The rights lost and other "improvements" to american society do not confirm 9/11 being an inside job. And yes ,there is no point in trying to argue since you and your kind won't even consider conspiracy theories about 9/11 might be wrong. 9/11 being an inside job is possible but it's much more likely USA was and is vulnerable to foreign attacks in spite of all its military might and they simply dropped the ball.Possibility of a simple truth must be very frightening since you are willing to accept anything but. But nevermind,I gotta go watch fox so I don't forget what to think.

another troll on Jan 13, 2013


And there you go spouting the typical MSM label of conspiracy nut whenever someone challenges your line of thinking....hypocrite.

Cody W on Jan 13, 2013


You are the one who started with the insults.Check your previous comment.Like most of you conspiracy guys do when somebody dares to post a comment disagreeing with your beloved conspiracy theories Also don't assume you know what my thinking is reading a few lines of text I posted on some site.Maybe I am just trolling you.

another troll on Jan 14, 2013


And you're so twisted to actually believe a bunch of guys in a cave funded and orchestrated 9/11? Yeah, you're the one that needs help, bud. I implore you to jump on your tube and type in "Joe Rogan, The American War Machine." Watch that, and then you can see how much we thrive on war. The Bush Cheney government needed to go to war, 9/11 gave them that reason. I suppose you think Sadaam was linked to 9/11 as well, right? Pffft. on Jan 13, 2013


Because some guy posting a video with his opinions on youtube makes it true. Joe Rogan is interesting to listen to with interesting ideas and he's a funny comedian but that still does not prove a conspiracy theory. Neither does a "need for war" by the military industrial complex mean or prove 9/11 was an inside job.They used 9/11 as an excuse for their own purposes but that does not automatically mean the 9/11 was their doing.You suppose wrong.I don't tend to jump to conclusions about Sadaam or 9/11.Unlike some people. Also you underestimate caves and guys in them. The Bush Cheney government is just a bunch of guys in a building.

another troll on Jan 13, 2013


Wow. You really have no clue, do you? Sad.

Jepp on Jan 14, 2013


Wow,you really have a narrow minded viewpoint when searching for the so called truth ? Sad.

another troll on Jan 14, 2013


Seriously, troll. That's pretty silly way at looking at it. OK, so don't take Joe Rogan's word for it. Look it up yourself. The internet is actually where the truth is leaking - not mainstream TV or press. The evidence is out there. in fact, it's everywhere you look. A lot of it points to an inside job. And this is coming from someone who did two tours of Iraq. I can honestly tell you, that war was a bunch of bullshit. It was only about making money.

ChristT on Jan 14, 2013


Nobody is disputing that war is just a business venture.That's actually nothing new,most wars are waged for profit or some kind of resource,whether oil,territory or a sphere of influence,talk of freedom or righteousness or any other positive propaganda is just a motivational tool.Still does not prove 9/11 was an inside job. Also not believing in conspiracy theories does not mean supporting the government or their agenda or whatever. For me it takes more than a couple of well put together youtube videos to be convinced one way or the other. Also I can offer this documentary as a counter since you all like to watch videos about 9/11 : The Conspiracy Files - 9 11 Ten Years On, a BBC production,you can find it on vimeo since youtube takes it down due to copyright.

another troll on Jan 14, 2013


Let me ask you this then - If we all agree that the Iraq war was based on lies (Sadaam link to 9/11, Going to war so we can steal oil and resources, fake WMD's, etc), then why can't people accept the notion that perhaps 9/11 was the perfect catalyst for war. Also - look up Operation Northwoods, and the PNAC documents that Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld wrote up during the Clinton years, where they talk about America needing to dominate the middle east. They also talk about getting the American public on board to go to war, via some "new Pearl Harbor" type event. These guys had been planning this for years.

Drew on Jan 14, 2013


The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal, as you call them, are not smart enough to pull off the most perfectly executed secret operation that involved so many people/agencies/liasons/etc. Somebody would have talked, leaked, or exposed information by mistake or on purpose. Especially with people running to wiki leaks with everything. Pakistan is also a wholly untrustworthy with secrets. That's why we got Bin Laden without notifying Pakistan, information ALWAYS leaked out whenever they were in the loop. Paranoid watchdogs are necessary to keep governments careful, but people like you are just yelling and complaining. You offer no effort to organize to gather evidence to prove your claims, push for meetings with your government representatives, or anything considered productive in any sense of the word. You are no different than the mentally ill guy standing on a city corner rambling that the world is coming to an end. Your opinion means nothing, please know that.

cghata on Jan 13, 2013


Really? That's your logic and reasoning? It worries me how dumb a lot of these comments are. People who have ZERO idea of how the world works. Wow. Just wow.

Jepp on Jan 14, 2013


I just love it how a well structured argument,decent argument not great, is answered by "you are an idiot" response offering no real counter argument of any substance whatsoever. Why don't you explain how the world works and enlighten the rest of us bumbling idiots instead of pointing out the oh so obvious fact of how stupid we are ? Yes ,yes " do the research" ...watching youtube videos is not research...not's equal to believing the so called propaganda by mainstream media...why is some guy making videos on his computer more credible than a reporter on tv ? They are both spinning a tale of one kind or another ...

mudslingingneverstops on Jan 14, 2013


I see where you're coming from. But there's a fallacy about all this. Many people think if they don't read it in the LA Times or USA Today, or watch it on the news, then it's not real. That's actually wrong. The real truth about all this stuff is indeed coming via the internet. It's raw and unfiltered. Sure, there is a lot of kooky stuff out there, and it can be hard to separate the legit from the crazy, but make no mistake, the "real" truth about 9/11 is NOT going to come in the form of a CBS news report.

BlackOps on Jan 14, 2013


It was a good movie, I don't care about whether it's pro-torture or not, or whether it's accurate or not. It was a good movie, not great. Just like Chastain's performance. Good, not great.

Chiroptera Exsanguination on Jan 11, 2013


Was this review in a bag somewhere or written by some lobbyist ? Impeccable recount of history ? It was already proven and reiterated that this movie has fiction in it, especially the part about getting the information that led to him. Bigelow refused to answer to her fiction saying its just a movie when asked about specifics, especially since the movie is advertised as being done with a journalistic approach. The dim witted masses will remember this as history and it seems the author is as ignorant as some popcorn eating dummies that came out of this movie understanding that this is what happened. Propaganda and misdirection propagated in the cinema and online too.

Ricky Bobby on Jan 11, 2013


I would say that as far as things go this film is a good approximations of what happened. I don't feel the elements of the film were played up 'patriotically' nor did the film get sentimental or sappy, which a lot of these kind of films degrade into. The folks complaining about the film certainly never give a thought about the 9/11 victims. Posting the same response multiple times, without any analysis or reasons, just displays to everyone exactly how big a noob one is without any class or clue. Since this film is now out, I think the 9/11 trope is done. Since this film won't be topped by a similar 9/11 film, a film maker can only make an inferior copy/imitation of this film.

quizzy on Jan 11, 2013


For all of those who are crying about propaganda and whatnot...if movies are your go to for learning about history I think you need to rethink your approach about learning stuff..this is just an interpretation and it can not substitute actual learning of known such it's an entertaining movie and it can serve as a motivation to go and learn actual facts about the whole subject matter..

horsin'around on Jan 12, 2013


People can call this controversial, disgusting, false and a list of negatives but all these things build to its buzz. Truth be told there was only one adjective I had for it...BORING...I've never seen anything with as much hype deliver so little & that's even with the blatant military recruitment undertones. Glad to see from a lot of the comments that I wasn't the only one who wasn't blown away.

darius on Jan 12, 2013


Excellent movie - not concerned about what the CIA does as long as it fits in with "war" and they are protecting our citizens

SHSR on Jan 12, 2013


Exactly.As long as they topple regimes in foreign countries working against the interests of military industrial complex and cause the deaths of countless innocent people while protecting "your" citizens they don't have to abide by international laws and treaties.Because USA is special.The rest of us can be blessed to be "protected" by the shining beacon of democracy.Fuck those brown people. Great movie,I enjoyed it greatly,did not find it to be pro or against anything, just more of a dramatization of known "facts".How much of actual truth is in the story shown on the screen is another matter. Miss Chastain is lovely.

eurotrash on Jan 13, 2013


cheezus! what a disgusting brown nose job of a "review". It sounds even worse than the ridiculously over rated Hoot locker. And as for all the little gun ho "admirers" of these "movies" who buy into the "official" versions put out by all those presstitutes, maybe you should stop playing video games and get a real life - or "do the research" instead of living a lie in the land of the slave and home of the fee... As Goethe said: None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.

noIMspartacus on Jan 15, 2013


Chicken hawk movie critics who know nothing of war and its devastation are falling over themselves to praise this falsified and reprehensible movie. Americans love to see thier bombs kill women and children and the side of torture turns them on. That is the secret to this movie success and praise by the corporate owned media and a morally bankrupt nation.

Kg on Jan 23, 2013

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