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Zero Dark Thirty Poster

Zero Dark Thirty follows the hunt for Osama bin Laden from 2001 to 2011. Jessica Chastain’s Maya is our protagonist. She starts working for the CIA in 2001, when torture is being used as a method of extracting information from prisoners. We follow her right through to the killing of bin Laden in 2011.

The first act of the film, where we are introduced to Maya and Dan, and see how the CIA is operating, was good. I was engaged. It was jargon heavy, but I assume this is necessary in most war films.

Where I really struggled was the second act, when the hunt for bin Laden became hollywoodised. I can cope with Maya being portrayed as the strong, smart woman who won’t give up, but as we dive more into the narrative Maya’s character started to evolve into a cliché. She struggled against the odds and her motivation became vengeance. I literally cringed when she said “I’m going to smoke everyone involved in this op and then I’m going to kill bin Laden”.

The best part of the film was the final act when the attack on the compound was carried out. This is where the film’s realism and grittiness finally shone through. The portrayal of the attack was gripping. It had me on the edge of my seat, and I believe that this part of the film was Oscar worthy.

The film was slow in some places, I’m sure that some of the slowness is a necessary reflection of the narrative. The audience feels Maya’s frustration when the hunt goes nowhere, as she waits, as she sifts through mountains of evidence. Maya is not an automatically likeable character, she is morally ambiguous. Bigelow does not guide the audience toward a position; the film is neutral in political stance. I’m not typically a fan of war or political movies, and we all know what happens to bin Laden in the end. So the fact that this film kept me entertained and on the edge of my seat during the final act is a testament to Kathryn Bigelow’s film making.

Mark Kermode’s review of Zero Dark Thirty is worth a watch. I agree with his take on the torture debate.

Zero Dark Thirty

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Have you seen Zero Dark Thirty? What did you think of it?

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5 thoughts on “Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

  1. I greatly enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty, and found it a tense gripping watch from start to finish. I personally didn’t think that the second act was ‘Hollywoodised’. I felt that Maya was motivated by her own sheer willpower and determination, rather than vengeance, but I do see where you’re coming from.

    And, like with almost everything else Mark Kermode says, I agree totally about his opinion on the torture issue, or should I say ‘nonissue’. Like what Kathryn Bigelow has already said, just because the film depicts torture, it doesn’t mean it advocates it.

  2. I echo the thoughts that “just because the film depicted torture doesn’t mean it condones it”, but the torture topic wasn’t what bothered me. What bothered me about Zero Dark Thirty was the praise this movie received for all the wrong reasons. It was nominated for Best Picture, and praised by certain people, in my humble opinion, simply due to the subject matter. While the acting was strong, and certainly parts of the film – especially the third act depicting the storming of Bin Laden’s compound – were compelling, it wasn’t one of the “Best Pictures” I saw in 2012. I’ll admit I’m a film snob, but too many movies gain accolades simply because they choose to portray a popular or controversial subject matter that the public wants to either get behind or vilify. These films capitalize on that “it factor” without really managing to be a masterpiece of cinema. It was an important film to make and see because of the historical significance the topic holds, but I wasn’t compelled by it the way I should be if it is to be called the “Best Picture” of 2012. I know I’m in the minority here, but that’s just my two cents.

    • Thanks for your really insightful comments – I agree that Zero Dark 30 wasn’t one of the best pictures of 2012, but it’s typically that way with the best picture nominees for the Oscars sadly

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