Zero Dark Thirty: film review


Maya: “I’m gonna smoke everybody involved in this op and then I’m going to kill Bin Laden.”

It ends with the death of brutal Al-Qaeda terrorist leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden during the covert mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan by Navy S.E.A.L. Team Six. Director Kathryn Bigelow [Point Break, Strange Days, The Hurt Locker] –who has made her career directing male-centric action films– and writer Mark Boal provide an edge-of-seat thriller chronicling the most phenomenal and intense decade-long manhunt. The film opens to a black screen and recorded calls on 9/11.

A woman’s voice to a 911 operator: “the floor is filled with smoke . . . I don’t think we can get out. Is someone coming to get us? I’m not sure we’re going to make it . . .” operator: “don’t say that. Someone is coming to help you.” Then silence. I got chills and tears in my eyes. Cut to Guantanamo. Cut to a black ops site where Dan [Jason Clarke–Public Enemies] brings in new team member Maya [Jessica Chastain– Take Shelter, The Help] for an interrogation.

Waterboarding, dog collar, loud music, withholding food and water, time in a box for suppressing information. Harsh and tense. Particularly the waterboarding scenes. Just terrifying. Holding down the detainee, putting a cloth over his face and pouring water over his nose and mouth. Drowning. How many lives might be saved if these agents can prevent further terrorist activity? Time passes and more attacks happen. Correlation that these techniques don’t work? Bigelow staggeringly showcases attacks in Saudi Arabia, London and Islamabad. Although I knew every terrorist attack I still cringed or screamed. There is so much death and destruction, blood and devastation, that you cannot help but think about the reasons behind the violence. It’s so upsetting and incomprehensible why anyone would want to continue to commit these acts of terror.


I didn’t even recognize Jennifer Ehle right away as seasoned CIA operative Jessica. She’s a bit skeptical of the youthful Maya from the start but after Maya’s found sleeping in her office enough times, she proves how dedicated she is to the Islamabad office despite insisting she didn’t choose it. The two women bond in a sisterly way. Jason Clarke excels as the super-charged field agent tasked to use any means necessary to get answers. As the head of the Islamabad C.I.A. bureau Kyle Chandler played it very Coach Taylor-lite which worked. Aussie Joel Edgerton and Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt stalwart and proud as Navy Seals. There are other familiar faces in smaller. roles—James Gandolfini as C.I.A. Director, Stephen Dillane as NSA Advisor and Mark Duplass as a C.I.A. tech.

Chastain does a remarkable job as Maya. Emotional when warranted– visibly shaken by a disastrous asset meeting. Confident when needed– steely at the top Washington brass meeting to vote on S.E.A.L. Team Six action. And the final few scenes. Amazing. Maya is the heart and compass of Zero Dark Thirty. She’s a strong, focused and determined woman. Never faltering from her end-goal despite losing team members. Maya continues the quest for Bin Laden undeterred by others who want to give up or believe intel might be weak.

–review by Amy Steele

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Reda Kateb, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Chris Pratt
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenplay: Mark Boal
Rating: R
Release Date: January 4, 2013 [limited], January 11, 2013 [wide]

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