Zero Dark Thirty

Rated R 157 min. 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (R) Zero Dark Thirty, as you’ve almost certainly heard, is about the work it took to track down Bin Laden, up to and including the military operation that resulted in his death. That’s wrong, or at the very least profoundly insufficient as a description. Because what director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have accomplished, while a significant act of cinematic journalism, isn’t merely procedural. It’s about confronting the human side of something that seems so massive and convoluted as to be beyond humanity — whether it’s for those most intimately involved, or those of us who only knew what was happening after it was all over. The central character is C.I.A. analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain), a fictionalized sort-of-amalgam of various real-life figures. We first meet her in 2003, visiting a “black site” where a colleague, Dan (Jason Clarke), is heading up the interrogation of an al Qaeda operative. It is no coincidence that Bigelow and Boal make their protagonist a woman; that fact, and Chastain’s brilliant performance, are absolutely central to Zero Dark Thirty’s moral center. The women in Zero Dark Thirty — including Jennifer Ehle, also fantastic as one of Maya’s colleagues — aren’t just required to have balls; those balls need to be bigger than those of any other swinging dick in the room in order to be taken seriously, even if it means taking bigger risks. And that’s where the film becomes more than a timeline of decisions. It’s about the psychology and rationalizations behind decisions: the way people convince themselves what they’re doing is necessary, or the reasons they convince themselves (and others) they’re certain even when they’re not. Zero Dark Thirty is far from perfect structurally, at times struggling to connect its three fairly distinct sections. Yet it’s consistently gripping, not just as espionage or military thriller but as an exercise in viewer identification. As we’ve already seen from the outraged editorials, you get to look at every data point, every casualty, every violation of human dignity, every course of action, and play history’s armchair quarterback. It asks in blunt terms, “If it were you, and you knew this was what it took to achieve this goal, would you have done the same things? And was it worth it?”

Film Credits

Official Site:

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writer: Mark Boal

Producer: Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Megan Ellison, Colin Wilson, Greg Shapiro and Ted Schipper

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler and Edgar Ramirez


Zero Dark Thirty

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