Zero Dark Thirty Review

Zero Dark Thirty (or ‘Everything You Wanted to Know About Torture, But Were Too Afraid To Ask’) is the latest by Academy Award winning director, Kathryn Bigelow who has returned to the big screen with her follow up to The Hurt Locker. It has been a note of contention for the past few years whether Bigelow won the award for her war thriller because she was is a woman (note Bret Easton Ellis on Twitter), because The Hurt Locker was nominated the same year as her ex-husband’s Avatar, because it was a contemporary war film or (and the most simple answer being) she is a good filmmaker, who (surprisingly) makes good films. As an audience member or critic, very few of us want to admit the last option is a viable one – it’s much more fun to beat the winners down or come up with other reasons why they were chosen, but I can honestly admit, hand on heart that after watching Zero Dark Thirty, all my suspicions were confirmed – I am ready to admit it *takes deep breath* – Kathryn Bigelow is a damn good filmmaker.

Right, now that I have gotten that out of the way, how about we get onto brass taxZero Dark Thirty is based upon one of the most followed stories of the past two decades; in reality it has affected thousands, if not millions around the globe and is one of the greatest victories in recent American history. I am talking about the tracking down, capturing and killing of terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, the man who was responsible for changing American history and so many lives in September 2011.

Mark Boal’s script, along with the work of Bigelow, is telling the story of greatest manhunt in history in a fictionalised telling of the operation, which lead to Bin Laden.


Taking a moment to look at Zero Dark Thirty as a whole piece of work – the film seems to have arrived at a point where we openly have a dialogue surrounding terrorism and it’s downfall. As an audience we are happy to admit the good guys can win in the story, and it no longer looks fake because ultimately it happened in reality. What I did take away from this film, and continue to ponder over is the feeling of an extended (and with much more money) episode of Homeland. This of course is not a negative, it has fast become of the most popular shows on both sides of the Atlantic, winning awards galore both for the show and it’s talent. But at the same time, I was finding it a little difficult to get Maya away from Carrie (Claire Danes’ bi-polar obsessed character) because both women become dangerously obsessed with finding the ‘baddie’. But whilst Homeland serialises the issues, and cuts them up into nice little chunks for the audience to digest each week, waiting on the end of their seat for the next episode, Zero Dark Thirty pounds them home, punch by punch, scene by scene. Maya becomes locked in a battle with everyone around her because she knows that she is moving in the right direction.

Zero Dark Thirty also observes a very interesting movement we are currently having with powerful women. I am pretty sure that not even ten years ago, we would have a terrorist thriller, which finds itself relying upon a woman to do the work. Instead, traditionally, women were seducers, traitors, lovers, wives and sometimes the (stay in the office) boss but not in recent memory (Homeland aside) is a tough woman, not sexualised but instead running against all the odds in a foreign part of the world to get the work done. This is where Jessica Chastain comes in; she is beautiful and there is no denying that but her performance as Maya blows every tough man performance out of the water. She is a no bullshitting bitch, who intends to find her goal and when she gets there, that will be the end but not before then. She is thrilling, and powerful.

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–by ollie charles images from