Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
The Future Of Film
The 100 Greatest Video Games
Robin Williams: The Big Interview
Kevin Feige:
My Movie Life

The Marvel supremo's pick of the flicks
Want To Be An Empire Journalist?
Find out how here
Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
Click poster to enlarge
More posters to select

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

LATEST FILM REVIEWS
Honeymoon
3 Star Empire Rating
Last Impresario, The
3 Star Empire Rating
I Origins
4 Star Empire Rating
Soul Boys Of The Western World
4 Star Empire Rating
What We Did On Our Holiday
3 Star Empire Rating



5 STAR REVIEWS
Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, The
5 Star Empire Rating
Two Days, One Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Some Like It Hot
5 Star Empire Rating
A Hard Day's Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Boyhood
5 Star Empire Rating

Zero Dark Thirty
Catch him if you can


submit to reddit


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
Browse more images »
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

Write Your Review
To write your review please login or register.

Your Reviews

Average user rating for Zero Dark Thirty
Empire Star Rating

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

L: DancingClown L: Normal Control To me, 5 stars is saying this movie is brilliant, and I should spend my time and money to go see it. It says even if I don't like the politics, at least technically it's a great movie and I'll be entertained. Then I'm seeing this 2-star average and thinking WTF - this movie can't be good on any level. Begs the question about quality control for Empire reviews. hat on earth are you talking about? Different people have different opinions. This re... More

Posted by Normal Control at 15:04, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: history for dimwits

L: Coyleone The stuff about the movie glorifying torture is completely ridiculous, and anyone that thinks it does glorify torture needs to get a grip. Saying that, the film is severely overrated by critics. I literally couldn't have cared less until the third act, and even then it wasn't anything to write home about. There was no real plot, no characters. Just stuff happening and then when it did happen it meant nothing. I've seen a few documentaries about this that were far more enter... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 14:04, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


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

L: Normal Control To me, 5 stars is saying this movie is brilliant, and I should spend my time and money to go see it. It says even if I don't like the politics, at least technically it's a great movie and I'll be entertained. Then I'm seeing this 2-star average and thinking WTF - this movie can't be good on any level. Begs the question about quality control for Empire reviews. hat on earth are you talking about? Different people have different opinions. This review is based on one pers... More

Posted by DancingClown at 13:50, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


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

L: Normal Control L: Deviation As if the 2 star user average means anything here. ure and I agree to an extent, but THIS wide of the mark? It's got to be down to more than conspiracy crack-heads and politics and something to do with the movie being not very good actually. To me, 5 stars is saying this movie is brilliant, and I should spend my time and money to go see it. It says even if I don't like the politics, at least technically it's a great movie and I'll be enterta... More

Posted by MonsterCat at 13:03, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


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

L: Deviation As if the 2 star user average means anything here. ure and I agree to an extent, but THIS wide of the mark? It's got to be down to more than conspiracy crack-heads and politics and something to do with the movie being not very good actually. To me, 5 stars is saying this movie is brilliant, and I should spend my time and money to go see it. It says even if I don't like the politics, at least technically it's a great movie and I'll be entertained. Then I'm seeing th... More

Posted by Normal Control at 12:59, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: history for dimwits

The stuff about the movie glorifying torture is completely ridiculous, and anyone that thinks it does glorify torture needs to get a grip. Saying that, the film is severely overrated by critics. I literally couldn't have cared less until the third act, and even then it wasn't anything to write home about. There was no real plot, no characters. Just stuff happening and then when it did happen it meant nothing. I've seen a few documentaries about this that were far more entertaining and gripping.... More

Posted by Coyleone at 21:12, 30 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: history for dimwits

L: UTB L: Timon L: johnnymatrix This film and the review are exactly the reasons why I have been going less and less to the cinema over the years and why I don't buy the Empire magazine anymore. Anyone believing that this film has any foothold in reality really needs to wake up fast. Bin Laden died years ago and it is a documented fact that the C.I.A. visited him in hospital after 9/11. The idea that that this raid actually took place is so ridiculous as to be laughable... More

Posted by elab49 at 10:23, 30 January 2013 | Report This Post


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

Before yesterday, I didn't even realise you can block people on the forum. After today, this thread alone has sent that option into overdrive. To compare this to Riefenstahl's work for the nazis is utter ill-informed madness. And speaking as a person with a liberal standpoint, the film does not condone torture whatsoever. It's widely known that it was a method used to extract information, which led to information that was both reliable & unreliable. To have not included that aspect in... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 02:45, 30 January 2013 | Report This Post


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

As if the 2 star user average means anything here. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 19:50, 28 January 2013 | Report This Post


2 star average user rating vs 5 star Empire rating

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. I almost wanna see this to check what I make of it. Almost. ... More

Posted by Normal Control at 18:59, 28 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: history for dimwits

L: johnnymatrix This film and the review are exactly the reasons why I have been going less and less to the cinema over the years and why I don't buy the Empire magazine anymore. Anyone believing that this film has any foothold in reality really needs to wake up fast. Bin Laden died years ago and it is a documented fact that the C.I.A. visited him in hospital after 9/11. The idea that that this raid actually took place is so ridiculous as to be laughable. I suppose Empire thought the ... More

Posted by AxlReznor at 16:53, 28 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: history for dimwits

I see. I was curious about his statement that this raid never took place... ... More

Posted by Timon at 16:44, 28 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: history for dimwits

L: Timon L: johnnymatrix This film and the review are exactly the reasons why I have been going less and less to the cinema over the years and why I don't buy the Empire magazine anymore. Anyone believing that this film has any foothold in reality really needs to wake up fast. Bin Laden died years ago and it is a documented fact that the C.I.A. visited him in hospital after 9/11. The idea that that this raid actually took place is so ridiculous as to be laughable. I'm so... More

Posted by UTB at 10:39, 28 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: history for dimwits

L: johnnymatrix This film and the review are exactly the reasons why I have been going less and less to the cinema over the years and why I don't buy the Empire magazine anymore. Anyone believing that this film has any foothold in reality really needs to wake up fast. Bin Laden died years ago and it is a documented fact that the C.I.A. visited him in hospital after 9/11. The idea that that this raid actually took place is so ridiculous as to be laughable. I'm sorry, what? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Timon at 09:54, 28 January 2013 | Report This Post


Grippingly Brilliant

Totally agree with the five star rating. I found it fascinating, gripping, and thought provoking. The initial slow pace only builds the tension before the raid. Deserve all the awards and more ... even better than The Hurt Locker! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by kramaring at 18:06, 27 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: overrated but still good

EDIT - Wrong thread. ... More

Posted by MonsterCat at 16:00, 27 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: overrated but still good

L: homersimpson_esq What was the film going to be called originally? essie Chastain's Super Crazy Bin Laden Hunt Fun Time Adventure. I'm thinking of double-billing ZDT with Django Unchained on Tuesday. Looking forward to checking both of them out. ... More

Posted by MonsterCat at 14:37, 27 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: overrated but still good

What was the film going to be called originally? ... More

Posted by homersimpson_esq at 14:26, 27 January 2013 | Report This Post


overrated but still good

It's basically Homeland: The movie. Chastain - who is very good - just wants to follow her gut instinct, but no-one will believe her! The first 30 minutes are very boring, but by the end, it's enthralling. Not as good as Zodiac, which tackles the same sort of one-person's obsession to catch a killer, but far superior. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 18:03, 26 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Zero Dark Thirty

It drags a bit in the middle but it has a thought provoking first act, and a really tense end. Good stuff. ... More

Posted by Hood_Man at 22:46, 25 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Zero Dark Thirty

Prior to the American operation which led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden, this figure had been depicted and parodied, not least from Family Guy in which Stewie Griffin took down bin Laden and his terrorist group. Even Super Size Me’s Morgan Spurlock made a rather comedic documentary called Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?. Originally conceived as the failed operation for the search of bin Laden, but after the events of May 2nd 2011, Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 20:42, 25 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Zero Dark Thirty

A great first act, and a fantastic third one are hamstrung by a mid section full of rushed, mumbled, overlong dialogue and too much detail. A technical masterpiece, but not made for me. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheMightyBlackout at 18:18, 25 January 2013 | Report This Post


Killed Bin Laden, Got The T-Shirt

I think it's too soon after the event for a movie about it. When dealing with any moment in history, it's better to let the dust settle and allow some perspective on the event to develop. Plus, while Bigelow included torture scenes for the sake of realism, those scenes will be used by terrorists for propaganda and recruitment (as will the scenes of Bin Laden being killed or "martyred" as the radical Islamists would dub it.) The female character in this is a bit too Clarice Starling for me. Whil... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BenTramer at 01:26, 25 January 2013 | Report This Post


history for dimwits

This film and the review are exactly the reasons why I have been going less and less to the cinema over the years and why I don't buy the Empire magazine anymore. Anyone believing that this film has any foothold in reality really needs to wake up fast. Bin Laden died years ago and it is a documented fact that the C.I.A. visited him in hospital after 9/11. The idea that that this raid actually took place is so ridiculous as to be laughable. I suppose Empire thought the Green Berets was a wonderf... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by johnnymatrix at 16:48, 23 January 2013 | Report This Post


Tedious

Although this has a quality cast, including gandolfini, It failed in it's first obligation to me as a piece of cinema, entertain. I won't get into all the politics because it's pointless. How anyone can say this film is full of suspense like ive been hearing is ridiculous. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by simjamlmx at 11:06, 23 January 2013 | Report This Post


Previous pageMore user comments

SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
The Future Of Film: The Streaming Services Will Be Major Studios
(Or how Hollywood will have to start worrying about Netflix)

The Empire Podcast #129: Liam Neeson Interview
Plus Max Irons, Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Holliday Grainger and Jessica Brown Findlay drop by to talk The Riot Club

The Future Of Film: We'll Be Watching Films In Virtual Reality
Immerse cinema aims to become the must-have experience for the filmgoers of the future

The Future Of Film: Cinema Will Cross The Uncanny Valley
The future of VFX, from believable digital humans to underwater mocap

The Future Of Film: There Will Be Another Indie Golden Age
Independent producers are growing from micro-budgets to something a lot bigger

Empire's Epic Interstellar Subscribers' Cover
The countdown begins to Christopher Nolan's sci-fi masterpiece

Shut Up, World! Gary Busey Is Talking!
Strap yourselves in and meet a true Hollywood original.

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 6 Issues Of Empire For Only £15!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)