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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Jessica Chastain
Kyle Chandler
Édgar Ramírez
Jason Clarke
Jennifer Ehle.
Directors
Kathryn Bigelow.
Screenwriters
Mark Boal.
Running Time
157 minutes

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Zero Dark Thirty
Catch him if you can


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Plot
After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the CIA make al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden a prime target. Over a decade, intelligence analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain) tracks a courier she senses will eventually lead to bin Laden’s hide-out. In 2011, Maya believes she has found bin Laden in Pakistan.


Review
Zero Dark Thirty
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The major challenge in telling this particular ripped-from-the-headlines story is underlined by a sequence late in the film. Jessica Chastain’s CIA agent has a face-to-face with a White House aide (James Gandolfini) she needs on side in order to get her inferences about the location of Osama bin Laden acted upon. The aide asks her how long she has worked for the Agency, and learns that practically her entire 12-year career has been devoted to this single target. When he probes deeper, trying to get a handle on why this lonely, debilitating campaign is so important to her, Maya shuts him down. He’s not cleared for any information she might give, even if she were so inclined.

A more conventional movie would have given its lead actress an Oscar clip speech here — about a loved one lost in the struggle, or a commitment to country and cause — but director Kathryn Bigelow and writer-producer Mark Boal remain as tight-lipped as any spook. Chastain’s haunted, intense presence makes a human space in a movie populated by unnamed individuals whose backstories have not been declassified. It’s as pared-down and unjudgmental as any objective documentary, even when Maya’s senior colleague (Jason Clarke) is waterboarding a detainee. Chastain conveys an arc, as Maya goes from flinching in a corner at her first interrogation to dodging bullets when she becomes an assassination target, but moments of character — an analyst (Jennifer Ehle) hoping
to sweeten a deal with a defector by making a cake — have to be snatched between the matter at hand.

Bigelow and Boal, reteaming after The Hurt Locker, initially planned a film about the CIA’s frustrating, fruitless search for bin Laden, until events overtook the project and provided a last-reel payoff. There’s a structural similarity to a Law & Order episode: the long, set-up act focuses on intelligence-gathering, with a whole new set of characters — the strike team despatched in Blue Thunder-lookalike helicopters to assail bin Laden in his lair — brought on and swiftly established for the climax. The film takes care to endorse no party line. When President Obama (seen only in a TV interview, renouncing the use of torture) puts an end to “the detainee programme”, the CIA simply adjust its tactics.

We don’t see any political discussion about what to do with the intel gathered by Maya and her colleagues, but we get a sense of the decade-long tangle of scraps of information gleaned from interrogations and surveillance which makes for a mystery that constantly simmers but threatens never to come to the boil. Few films have conveyed the grinding routine of spying as strongly as this — and the way that big targets have to be located by the ripples they leave even as they stay invisible.

Like Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, it’s a relatively new kind of American patriotic war movie, counterprogramming jaded paranoid fantasies like the Bourne movies or the liberal horror stories (Redacted, Rendition, In The Valley Of Elah, Green Zone etc.) thrown up by the War On Terror. It’s measured, seething with suppressed emotion, unafraid of slow stretches and false trails, snapping shut like a mantrap when blood is shed. If it grips in a more intellectual, journalistic manner than its Oscar-winning predecessor, it’s because Chastain’s character is necessarily absent during the climax — though she has a terrific post-traumatic outburst when the case is closed.


Verdict
Gripping throughout, with an impressive central performance, this is like a Dogme 95 redo of a Chuck Norris film — by heroic effort, the good guys find and kill a bad guy. How you feel about that is something Bigelow leaves you to decide.


Reviewed by Kim Newman

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Zero Dark Thirty
Empire Star Rating

"I'm going to smoke everyone involved in this op and then I'm going to kill Bin Laden."

Lengthy, brooding and ineffably thrilling, Zero Dark Thirty stands as one of the single greatest manhunt movies ever made... Jessica Chastain's performance is a work of subtle brilliance. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 11:22, 26 October 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Zero Dark Thirty

As a thematic and stylistic companion piece to Kathryn Bigelow’s last film, rk Thirtytually (and visually) t Locker 2en by Mark Boal, it’s also wk Down 2th a happier ending. Except for Osama bin Laden, of course. The ten year hunt for bin Laden ended just eighteen months before rk Thirtyase. Too soon? It was more than a decade before America was ready to confront the trauma of Vietnam on the big screen. But when is the right time? Was President’s Menon? Or 93never too soon for the first d... More

Posted by chris kilby at 11:50, 28 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE:

L: TheGodfather Finally seen yesterday: tp://www.imdb.com/title/tt1790885/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1]Zero Dark ThirtyAfter all the raving reviews and things I had heard about it my expectations were high. Too bad not all of them were met. As a whole, it somewhat dissapointed me. That is especially because of the first part of the film (the first hour, hour and a half), that was very fragmented. It felt like loose sand and went too fast. Names are thrown back and forth wich makes you need ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mr Gittes at 18:14, 24 February 2013 | Report This Post


Not bad

It was well made and the last 45 mins were electrifying but it 's, let's be honest, kind of dull at times. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by sephiroth7 at 16:17, 18 February 2013 | Report This Post


Finally seen yesterday: tp://www.imdb.com/title/tt1790885/?ref_=f n_al_tt_1]Zero Dark Thirtyfter all the raving reviews and things I had heard about it my expectations were high. Too bad not all of them were met. As a whole, it somewhat dissapointed me. That is especially because of the first part of the film (the first hour, hour and a half), that was very fragmented. It felt like loose sand and went too fast. Names are thrown back and forth wich makes you need to pay attention at all tim... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 11:54, 17 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Zero Dark Thirty

L: CC80 L: ElephantBoy Have reviewed it elsewhere so won't go into too much detail here. Other than I don't get where the debate surrounding the movie is about touture alone like that is the only theme, it is about far more than that. Also its not as if the Myra character is treated as if she is a hero, but more than often like she has developed an ego and is getting overly obsessed. The characters are cold, because they work in a very cold business, this also adds to t... More

Posted by ElephantBoy at 23:47, 15 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Zero Dark Thirty

L: ElephantBoy Have reviewed it elsewhere so won't go into too much detail here. Other than I don't get where the debate surrounding the movie is about touture alone like that is the only theme, it is about far more than that. Also its not as if the Myra character is treated as if she is a hero, but more than often like she has developed an ego and is getting overly obsessed. The characters are cold, because they work in a very cold business, this also adds to the tension in the... More

Posted by CC80 at 04:53, 14 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Zero Dark Thirty

Have reviewed it elsewhere so won't go into too much detail here. Other than I don't get where the debate surrounding the movie is about touture alone like that is the only theme, it is about far more than that. Also its not as if the Myra character is treated as if she is a hero, but more than often like she has developed an ego and is getting overly obsessed. The characters are cold, because they work in a very cold business, this also adds to the tension in the film. ... More

Posted by ElephantBoy at 21:01, 13 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Zero Dark Thirty

I thought it was excellent.  I finally saw it last night and thought it was absolutely excellent. The problem with holding that opinion is that people can think you’ve been converted to a kind of thigh-slapping, “yee-haw, we got him!” jingoism.  I’ve worked hard at garnering a personal reputation as a laborious regurgitating Chomsky-ite, so much so that people have looked funny at me when I’ve told them a) I wanted to see this and now, b) I loved it.    I really do... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by demoncleaner at 12:03, 13 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Zero Dark Thirty

The film was absolutely incredible and one of the best I've seen in years. It was so intense that if you shoved a piece of coal up my arse a diamond would have popped out at the end. So good I'm going to see it again tonight. 5 stars and more. ... More

Posted by lamby at 13:07, 12 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Zero Dark Thirty

Advertising link removed Review: After all the Oscar buzz surrounding this movie, I found myself sadly underwhelmed by what I was watching. While the subject matter was undeniably interesting, the main characters all felt surprisingly hollow and one-dimensional, and I saw nothing Oscar-worthy about Chastain's performance, aside from one or two brief moments. Bigelow's insistence of having a blurry, out-of-focus object in the foreground of every second shot proved to be frustratingly dis... More

Posted by CeejSays at 22:29, 07 February 2013 | Report This Post


An intense film about the hunt for Bin Laden from the first bits of information squeezed out through waterboarding prisoners, to the raid itself. The viewer is given no spin but is allowed to make up their mind about the degree to which the end can justify the means. Within this is the perspective of a CIA agent for whom the hunt has become an obsession and she loses friends and, to a degree her own freedom. It's objective and compelling viewing and I hope there are some awards to come... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bretty at 17:24, 04 February 2013 | Report This Post


seen the bloody thing

ok, here's my take. Technically it's fine. The direction and acting looks like everyone tried hard, if you can excuse some clunky bits. The politics are 'relatively' even-handed, and intentionally or not, Bigelow allows the early torture prisoner come off as the coolest person in the movie for me. The guy that played the lead torturer was also pretty cool. With this in mind, I don't think the torture scenes were anywhere near as brutal/uncomfortable as they could have been. Actually the mo... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Normal Control at 11:37, 03 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Zero Dark Thirty

An incredible film that was always going to be polarizing. While it may not be as purely entertaining as similar films like Argo, it's nuanced portrayal of the events and people involved makes it a far superior film. It depicts the grey realities of war and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden with subtlety, maturity and honesty - condemning the immoral without being a liberal message movie. Like all great art, it allows the audience to think, debate and finally judge for themselves on some very releva... More

Posted by Quentin Black at 01:55, 02 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 5 stars for this no-style documentary?

Yep, this block button really comes in handy... ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 20:39, 01 February 2013 | Report This Post


5 stars for this no-style documentary?

I found this movie gripping, interesting, didn't look at my watch... But cinematographically it's just worth NOTHING. It looks like a cheap TV documentary. It's a shame a MOVIE magazine like Empire gives it 5 stars. Giving 5 stars is just like saying: "this is perfect filmmaking, this is how a movie has to be". Plus, if this wasn't based on "real events", this would just be an average thriller with a very predictable plot. And at the same time, you guys aren't giving "Django Unchained" the... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dseys at 15:35, 01 February 2013 | Report This Post


Really Good film

Same as above ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dinkydog at 01:36, 01 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1790885/reviews-296

My, my, where to begin.... The Empire review is waaaayyy off - 1st paragraph is completely wrong when the reviewer mistakes James Gandolfini's character - which is meant to be CIA Director Leon Panetta - by a "White House aide". And after that it's all downhill.... This movie is a 3 star at best - very little character development all around. Jessica Chastain's character Maya looks more like a drug-addicted than a committed woman wanting to catch OBL: addressing her superior in a co... More

Posted by Yosy at 21:45, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1790885/reviews-296

Check out my review of Zero Dark Thirty at the above link. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BenTramer at 17:25, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1790885/reviews-296

Check out my review of Zero Dark Thirty at the above link. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BenTramer at 17:25, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 2 star average user rating vs 5 star Empire rating

L: horribleives L: Normal Control Nice one Kimbo. Seriously man, just coz a movie's flavour of the week in the discussion lounges doesn't mean it's a great movie. I thought The Hurt Locker was over-rated shite, and this looks similar in outlook. t wanna see this to check what I make of it.. hat tends to be the most reliable way one forms an opinion on a film. Unless one is a fucking idiot. totally agree man. I haven't said I think the movie's crap or unfair. I haven't giv... More

Posted by Normal Control at 15:35, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 2 star average user rating vs 5 star Empire rating

L: horribleives L: Normal Control Nice one Kimbo. Seriously man, just coz a movie's flavour of the week in the discussion lounges doesn't mean it's a great movie. I thought The Hurt Locker was over-rated shite, and this looks similar in outlook. t wanna see this to check what I make of it.. hat tends to be the most reliable way one forms an opinion on a film. one is a fucking idiotuote] Judging by his previous posts, I'll be generous, and say the jury's still out on that. ... More

Posted by AxlReznor at 15:32, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 2 star average user rating vs 5 star Empire rating

uhhh, what's a batspider? I didn't a word you just said either.. ... More

Posted by Normal Control at 15:29, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 2 star average user rating vs 5 star Empire rating

L: Normal Control Nice one Kimbo. Seriously man, just coz a movie's flavour of the week in the discussion lounges doesn't mean it's a great movie. I thought The Hurt Locker was over-rated shite, and this looks similar in outlook. t wanna see this to check what I make of it.. hat tends to be the most reliable way one forms an opinion on a film. Unless one is a fucking idiot. ... More

Posted by horribleives at 15:29, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 2 star average user rating vs 5 star Empire rating

I didn't understand a word you just said, BatSpider. EDIT - Damn my grammatical incompetence. ... More

Posted by MonsterCat at 15:20, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


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