Movie Review: “Zero Dark Thirty” – A Slow Burning Manhunt

Written by Matthew da Silva January 12, 2013


Just in time for awards season comes a depiction of what the film has labeled “the greatest manhunt of all time”. Kathryn Bigelow’s latest foray into the War on Terror follows a CIA team’s lengthy search for Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, a search that took ten years to finally unfold. After being the first ever female recipient of the Best Director category at the Academy Awards and taking home the statue for Best Picture for previous effort “The Hurt Locker”, Bigelow is looking to add a few more Oscars to the collection with “Zero Dark Thirty”. Will the film have enough firepower to take the top prize once again?

Psycho Nothings

The film focuses on Maya (Jennifer Chastain), a young and relatively inexperienced CIA operative employed with the task of obtaining information through detainees. In a profession where severe mental and physical duress is commonplace, Maya’s struggle to progress in her line of work is sometimes just as daunting as the difficulty in obtaining enemy intel. While at one turn she can be calm and collected, especially in dealing with the horror of torture, there is always an underlying psychotic temperament that is necessary to drive progress forward.

As complex as Maya is, though, there is never a sense of any personal growth through the course of the film. Spanning nearly ten years, Maya’s demeanor and attitude, and furthermore her physical appearance, never seem to change, making her seemingly immune to the weathering that ten years of searching for the most infamous figurehead in the War on Terror would surely provide. Maya seems to be one hundred percent certain on every aspect of the info she has dug up on Osama, leading to his assassination yet never giving any reason as to why she’s correct.


Simmer To Rapid Boil

Sitting at roughly two and a half hours, it seems like a nearly impossible task to fit in ten years of backstory into the assassination. Bigelow smoothly fits important revelations in the manhunt into the allotted time slots, focusing on key elements that lead to Osama’s discovery, as well as incorporating post-9/11 terror attacks that were always one step away from the information they already had on hand. In the first half of the film, the acquisition of necessary information crept along at a slow pace, dragging some of the earlier moments down with some convoluted political jargon and too many worthless interrogations.

The second half looks to do away with the first half’s somewhat lagging pace, allowing the sights and sounds of the CIA’s covert operation into Osama’s presumed compound to take over. This last forty-five minutes is a stunning fictionalization of the event, with Bigelow draping the screen in a veil of darkness that only allows for the eyes of the audience to spot glances of the soldiers movements, allowing them to blend in with the environment around them. Every now and then we get a glimpse through the soldiers night vision goggles, slightly illuminating the way for a few seconds before reverting back to the cloaked soldiers of the operation.

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The Big Question

Much of the discussion and controversy regarding the film centers on its portrayal of interrogation methods, and more specifically the torture methods utilized by secret service members in the hopes of attaining information from detainees. Bigelow is not sympathizing with torturers and torture methods, but rather showing us how the U.S. dealt with interrogation before the abolishment of torture methods by President Obama, methods that the CIA did historically use during the Bush era. The CIA may not have been happy about it in the film, but Bigelow still designated a good amount of time into showing how torture did not always lead to truthful information, and that it sometimes did the opposite.

My guess: it won’t live up to Bigelow’s award-winning “Hurt Locker”, but it will be discussed in length in the weeks to come regarding its controversial nature. It is a great piece of post-9/11 film in this sense, one that portrays a challenging view on torture that leaves it ambiguous enough for moviegoers to evaluate the harsh truth of the narrative of the War on Terror.

My Rating: 7/10


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