Review: Zero Dark Thirty



The Story

ZDT tells the story of the events leading up to and including the killing of Bin Laden, notorious terrorist mastermind behind the airline kamikaze attacks in the US in 2001.


A Little of This, A Little of That

Director Kathryn Bigelow and her filmmaking team were granted unprecedented access to classified information about the true life events, including the actual Seal mission that took out the al-Qaeda figure head. So, needless to say it’s a fascinating story to witness in any form, regardless of your personal angle on the story.

The film’s story unfolds as a series of vingettes centered around a specialized group setup during the Bush administration and who’s duties continue to this day. The group’s primary mandate post-911 was to discover and stop impending terrorist attacks and secondarily to find enemy number one, Usama Bin Laden (UBL). The film tries to shed some light on the difficulty encountered by the Americans as they struggled to change their world view and tactics in fighting this new decentralized and nimble foe.

Actress Jessica Chastain (seen most recently in MAMA) plays a fresh hire whose whole reason for being hired was to look for UBL. She was recruited straight out of high school and brings with her a mindset untainted by the veterans of the cold war and warfare traditionalists. She comes in immediately questioning everything her teammates have been doing and challenging the status quo. Her new perspective is a turning point for the team and more pressingly for their mission. Chastain turns in an original performance here, a unique character compared with the roles she’s played before, but I wouldn’t go so far as label her a chameleon (as some have suggested). She’s still pretty recognizable, distinguished only by her wardrobe and dialog. Otherwise her already overpowering personality and ticks poke through the character.

If you’ve seen this director’s prior work, The Hurt Locker, then you have a pretty solid picture of what to expect from ZDT. Like her other film, this was shot in a documentary style with very little flourish in cinematography. Scenes are largely handheld with occasional tripod sequences in exteriors, for example. As with documentaries, there are jumps in time between scenes that can get a bit jarring as the audience volts from hour-long gaps to time jolts of months. As with Hurt Locker you kind of learn to accept it as the assumption is that there’s a lot of boring-ness between the lines. It works for the style and most importantly the narrative is understood.

In case it wasn’t clear yet, ZDT is a solid yet safe play. Bigelow is a solid action director whose oeuvre speaks for itself. You can’t go wrong with this choice, but don’t expect anything earth shattering. If you’re an IRL junkie you won’t learn anything new about the UBL story, but it’s a worthwhile couple hours nonetheless.

B grade for Cinematography
B+ grade for Storytelling

Overall a solid B grade for a job well done.


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