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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

"White House Aide"?

Er...that'd be James Gandolfini playing the Director of the CIA, Leon Panetta. So the first paragraphs "He’s not cleared for any information she might give, even if she were so inclined" is clearly way off. Anyway, great movie. I loved it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by landy at 22:47, 22 January 2013 | Report This Post


Very very overrated. There's literally no storyline or plot

I think a factual documentary about this event would be much more thrilling and entertaining rather than a movie with no plot or story featuring fictional characters and facts. The last 20 minutes are good but up until the point where they find the compound nothing actually happens, can't believe all the hype for this. I don't care about politics or controversial torture scene's. As an entertaining gripping movie, this fails miserably. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jamie_M at 17:31, 22 January 2013 | Report This Post


I Can't Believe you gave this 5 Stars!!!

Just a few pointers at how awful this film is. 1. No evidence exists of Bin Ladens 'Direct' involvement in 9/11 2. There Is a lot more evidence of US involvement. 3. To debate the use of torture in the remotest way is utterly distasteful 4. The film doesn't make a point or stance on anything 5. No character gets any real development or any opportunity to give insight into the minds of the people involved. (Unlike the amazing Hurt Locker) and finally the most infuriating point.... 6. Th... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by loog125 at 14:37, 22 January 2013 | Report This Post


Highly Over rated.

Good acting. Occasionally amusing but it lacks the spark and excitement of the hurt locker. Here we see Chastain pulling a lone wolf role and I found it hard to connect with her and the other characters and the film being 2 and a half hours of mind numbingly boring dullness doesn't help. Fuck you Kathryn Bigelow your fllm is pointless. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lewisb548 at 10:26, 22 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Thanks Empire, another spoiler

Great movie. Bested 'The Hurt Locker' in my opinion. A truely great performance from Jessica Chastain. And even though everyone knows the eventual outcome, a truely gripping film. Perfectly judged final scene too. **** ... More

Posted by film man aidy at 11:48, 21 January 2013 | Report This Post


Thanks Empire, another spoiler

Seriously Empire. If you can't keep important contents of the story to yourselves in movie reviews, you shouldn't be writing them. (Referring to the reveal of Chastain's post-traumatic outburst). I will never read another Empire review. Unforgivable. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jrewing1000 at 12:47, 17 January 2013 | Report This Post


Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow's streamlined dramatization of the manhunt with a documentary approach makes 'Zero Dark Thirty' spellbinding. But ultimtaely its the show of Jessica Chastain. Thanks a ton to Mark Boal for the subtle writing and mezmerizing performance of Jessica. Undoubteldy one of the best films of 2012. My Detailed Review Here: http://www.filmwaves.in/2013/01/zero-dark-thirty.html ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ajm1991 at 17:28, 15 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

I probably liked The Hurt Locker more if I'm being honest. ... More

Posted by Coyleone at 00:57, 10 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

L: Coyleone The film was really good, but my god is it overhyped! 5 stars is much too high, I'd be pushing it saying it's a 4 star movie. It's quite gripping and has some very good tense scenes This is the Zero Dark Thirty thread, not the Hurt Locker thread, dumba... oh. ... More

Posted by UTB at 20:53, 09 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

L: garvielloken L: Deviation L: garvielloken I was going to say something about Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will being an excellent film but then I remembered the word fascist is being thrown around a lot here recently. ote] Nazi. ommunist J. ... More

Posted by chris kilby at 19:24, 09 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

The film was really good, but my god is it overhyped! 5 stars is much too high, I'd be pushing it saying it's a 4 star movie. It's quite gripping and has some very good tense scenes, the story is well told and the acting is terrific from Chastain, but there is absolutely nothing in it from a film-making standpoint that elevates it above a film like Argo (or a lot of other films from 2012), which as a true to life thriller is so much better. There's nothing likeable about any of the characters, ... More

Posted by Coyleone at 18:47, 09 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

L: Deviation L: garvielloken I was going to say something about Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will being an excellent film but then I remembered the word fascist is being thrown around a lot here recently. ote] Nazi. ommunist ... More

Posted by garvielloken at 09:26, 07 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

L: garvielloken I was going to say something about Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will being an excellent film but then I remembered the word fascist is being thrown around a lot here recently. ote] Nazi. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 00:17, 07 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

I was going to say something about Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will being an excellent film but then I remembered the word fascist is being thrown around a lot here recently. ... More

Posted by garvielloken at 19:14, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

I remember hearing the news of the film after he was shot, but the original script was defo finished. It's interesting though, on one side we have a movie about the pressure when the hunt was failing, then the pressure of when he is thought to be found and the mission itself. I think she could have her Zodiac and Memories of Murder with a "happier" ending here if the result comes out grand, and the reception suggest it is. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 17:24, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

They were about to start filming, I think, then the raid happened and they had to start over. ... More

Posted by rawlinson at 16:59, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

My biggest anticipation for this film, for some reason, is if they will actually show bin Laden being shot or in person or show it off screen during the attack. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 16:55, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

Ah - thanks for that. Saves me looking out for something that isn't there! ... More

Posted by elab49 at 16:39, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

As far as I know, Boal started making a script about the failure to catch bin Laden in Tora Bora, but had to change it because SPOILERS, they killed him in Abottabad. The filming itself started afterwards. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 16:33, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

I was wondering, given they apparently started it not knowing he'd be caught by the end (have I read that right?) if it's possible to see a change a direction/tone in it. That'd be quite interesting. Or whether the edit smoothed the whole.  ... More

Posted by elab49 at 16:19, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

I'm really hoping the film is as dispassionate as the reviews would suggest. The fact that the film can provoke both the cinematic Godwins of "She's like Riefenstahl" and the far more intriguing comment that it's a film about war crimes told from the point of view of the criminals suggests something very interesting. ... More

Posted by rawlinson at 15:36, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

Ah, because what I read was (Spoilers, obviously): is the controversy, in a nutshell: The film effectively begins (after an audio-only opening featuring an "sound collage" of 9/11 related sound clips played over a black screen) with its main character, Maya (Chastain) observing the interrogation of a captured terrorist. During the interrogation, the agents - primarily one played by Jason Clarke - try to extract information from their prisoner using sleep deprivation, waterboarding, sexual... More

Posted by Rebel scum at 14:54, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

But isn't the suggestion here that a filmmaking decision to juxtapose certain scenes is implying something that b] factually correct? A filmmaker always chooses where to put their camera, there is always a construction of sorts, whether you call it an agenda or not. The Senate Committee examination on this d not first learn about the existence of the UBL (bin Laden) courier from detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques. ... Instead, the CIA learned of the existence ... More

Posted by elab49 at 14:22, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

I haven't seen the film yet but why does everything have to be pro or anti? Can a film not just depict something that happened without being overtly for or against it and, y'know, treat the audience like adults? It's funny how critics generally applaud films that make no moral judgement on characters' actions but then expect a filmaker to do just that when dramatising something that doesn't fit into some cosy liberal bubble. And I'd put little faith in that Guardian article as it's quite app... More

Posted by horribleives at 13:58, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Vile propaganda

If it turned out that torture in this case did result in Bin Laden being killed, then I am not sure how it can be called propaganda. Sadly the world isn't black and white, and perhaps the movie is asking the audience to look at this with a mature approach? ... More

Posted by Rgirvan44 at 13:19, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


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