Aneesh Chaganty

Zero Dark Thirty | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on December 22, 2012 at 5:11 AM


Zero Dark Thirty

(2012, US, d. Kathryn Bigelow)

“Based on a True Story” is a tired and ineffective marketing strategy. Even when a story is true, audiences never really pay attention to whether or not a film was a true story. It’s only in a conversation 15 minutes after you’re back in the car on the way home when someone in the back raises his voice and asks, “Wait. Wasn’t that a true story?”. And with the number of found footage movies entering the market, nobody even believes that line anymore. 

Zero Dark Thirty is the exception. 

Every single moment of this film feels real. And even when we’re listening in on top-secret meetings or watching deep cover CIA operatives in the Middle East, you will not be able to stop thinking: “Oh my God. This is a true story”. 

In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons why this film was so effective. When the trailer was first released, I could hear moviegoers grunting. They already made a movie about getting bin Laden? Psh Hollywood. It’s hard to not get to that conclusion. After all, it was only months after the incident in May of 2011 when Zero Dark Thirty was green-lit. Talk of a movie began the next day.

But when Kathryn Bigelow (Academy Award winning director of The Hurt Locker) is the one helming it, you should pay attention. The crafmanship achieved throughout this film only makes the brief timeframe between bin Laden’s death and the movie’s release feel more powerful. For once, a move like doesn’t seem financially motivated. It feels…necessary. 

Zero Dark Thirty is one of the most intense movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. One of my favorite films of the year, it’s ability to objectively portray not only a seriously complex issue but also a morally ambiguous one was incredible. Its discerning camera never shies away from exposing a harsh reality, even if it’s about the American people (one big difference between Argo – another action film based on a real life political event). 

Zero Dark Thirty, if I haven’t made it clear enough, is about catching Osama bin Laden. It begins on September 11th, 2001 and ends on May 2nd, 2011 – the day after bin Laden was killed.  It follows Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA operative working in the Middle East with the sole task of capturing bin Laden. 

The film’s timeframe perfectly captures its most basic emotion: frustration. For ten years, Maya follows lead after lead, name after name, and investigation after investigation – searching for the tiniest lead to bin Laden. But nothing works out. And for 2 and half hours, the audience is as frustrated as Maya. No lead is small and things to start to feel as if they may go somewhere but they don’t. This is not an insult – it’s an incredible feat for Bigelow to achieve while keeping audiences as gripped as ever. 

I was enthralled. Every single person watching this movie knows what will happen at the end, but the film is created so well, it doesn’t matter. We still fear for 2 whole hours.

But the only thing that’s better than the first 2 hours of the film are the last 30 minutes, which showcase the true potential of American power. Watching the special forces unit prepare and attack the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was unlike watching any action scene before. It felt real. It felt visceral. I had goosebumps the whole time. 

Bigelow’s only fault with Zero Dark Thirty is that during these last 30 minutes, she loses track of her protagonist. During the strike, I wanted to see what Maya was thinking; what she was doing. The entire film follows her obsession in catching the man and the climax features barely anything of her at all; the film was far more interested in showing the strike itself. But this is only a small fault. Because the strike, as mentioned earlier, is one hell of American cinema. And most importantly: it works.

A gripping procedural anchored by a powerhouse and subtle performance by Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty is intense, risky, relevant, and moving.

If only more people like Megan Ellison (the film’s financier) existed in the world-





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