Review: Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, 2012)

When the news that Osama Bin Laden, leader of one of the biggest terrorist organisations in the world Al-Qaeda, had finally been discovered and killed in 2011, to many it was only a matter of time before some adaptation was made for the big or small screen. Of course there was always going to be a story worth telling, a ten year hunt for one of the most dangerous men in the world, and the lengths that Americans were willing to go to find him. It was the perfect setting for a good conspiracy thriller, and director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) uses the setting well, to create a tense and gripping film.

There has been much controversy over this film, with heavy emphasis on its portrayal of torture and how much access the production team had to classified files on Al-Qaeda. Much of the criticism has been directed towards the torture and how it is displayed as a positive method for obtaining information by the Americans. Although opinions may differ, the film does not feel like it is glorifying torture, but convey that it was necessary to find and bring the terrorists to justice. Admittedly Zero Dark Thirty isn’t for the faint of heart, as at times it can be very dark and murky, and at some points pretty grim.

If one were to review this as a pure piece of entertainment however, the film is a terrific thriller. There isn’t much plot to the film, as we know the outcome and it’s purely the case of one woman’s assumption leading to be eventually correct, but you can easily overlook this and it will still have you gripped and absorbed, and you will begin to feel the frustration and strain of the CIA yourself. The style of the film is similar to Bigelow’s previously acclaimed film The Hurt Locker, but what makes this film a better piece is that it tells the tale of an agonizing and stressful experience in a hostile environment and then reaches a sensational climax (where the film turns into an action film) where The Hurt Locker didn’t in quite such energy.

One of the film’s most impressive features is without question its female lead Jessica Chastain, who plays Maya, a young CIA officer who has spent her entire short career tracking Bin Laden. What is most impressive about Chastain is that her character is introduced to us with no back story, or indeed much background in the slightest. But the level of emotion and determination which Chastain conveys is most impressive, we can feel her impatience, her raw and hard-line approach to tracking this man down and bringing justice to the people around the world affected by atrocities caused by him. The film is a strong success, and with 5 Oscar nods it is certainly receiving the attention it deserves.



Ellis Whitehouse

  • John Jones

    Torture wasn’t necessary though. Most of the controversy wasn’t over a glorification of torture but instead the insinuation that torture worked at all, when in fact it actually made the chase longer by causing the CIA to follow dead ends as they trusted information purely because it was obtained from torture.