Zero Dark Thirty Movie Review – Like so many others, the memory of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 remain seared in my brain. This is also true of the evening that President Obama announced to the world that Bin Laden had been located and killed in a highly secret mission in May, 2011. ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (a term used by military, referring to late night) was originally written as a chronicling of the CIA’s unsuccessful hunt for the Al Qaeda leader. But when news of Bin Laden’s death went public, the screenplay was rewritten to include the raid on the Bin Laden compound that was executed by (the now infamous) Navy Seal Team 6. The addition of this climactic finale to the film brings the runtime to 157 minutes. Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal (applauded for their work on last year’s celebrated ‘The Hurt Locker’) return with another Best Film contender for this year’s Academy Awards… and a gritty, unforgiving look into this decade-long manhunt.
CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) is immediately thrown right into the thick of ongoing interrogations of captured terror suspects in the Middle East. Initially hesitant to involve herself in the harsh interrogation methods used by CIA agent Dan (Jason Clarke), she eventually learns to work around such (torturous) acts in order to attain the information she needs. Despite dealing with false leads, dead ends, political obstacles and very real threats to her life, she persists on following a lead that has captured her interest. That lead will finally result in determining the target location; a residential compound within the borders of Pakistan. Now the real battle begins – convincing the CIA and Pentagon that her hunch will lead to Osama Bin Laden. The rest, as they say, is history.
It should be noted that this movie is a work of fiction, and though many key plot elements were based on actual events, ‘Zero Dark Thirty‘ should not be considered a reenactment of the whole, true story. First off, Chastain’s character is referred to as Maya in the film, though this obviously isn’t the CIA agent’s real name. And as much as the American public would love to believe that the CIA would release crucial (not to mention secret) information to be referenced in a film, it just wouldn’t happen. In fact, the CIA claims that the film’s portrayal of torture methods being used during suspect interrogations is historically inaccurate. A first-hand account of the raid on the Bin Laden compound was also eventually published by a member of Seal Team 6… but there are, without a doubt, a number of details that will remain secret.
That being said, this is a truly amazing film. Carrying the majority of the project on her shoulders, Chastain appeals to the audience with an emotional performance that transitions to one of a strong will, unwavering in the face of doubt and ridicule. Performances by the whole cast are believable and relatable. The frustrations, fears and intentions of these characters can all be read on the faces of the actors playing them.
This film feels as accurate is it gets. It’s gritty and unforgiving. The film opens to brutal interrogation scenes involving methods recently exposed to the public, like ‘waterboarding’. And then there’s the seemingly never-ending investigation into any and all leads; some of which produce catastrophic results. This period seems to drag on forever… which is surely what it felt like for those who actually lived through it. But what’s even more frustrating is the amount of time that passed as Maya tries to convince the Pentagon that she’s right, long after having located her target. And finally, there’s the raid of the compound… and it’ll have your heart racing for the whole 25-minute duration. The entire depiction of the events that play out through the film feels authentic – and probably as real as most people would care to see in a work of fiction.