Published on March 17th, 2013 | by Clint Davis
Zero Dark Thirty 
Summary: A re-invention of the war film with the emotional breadth of a waterboarding session. Kathryn Bigelow tells the story of a woman, and a nation's pursuit of Osama bin Laden.
R | 157 min.
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton
Studio: Columbia Pictures (US) / Universal Pictures (Intl.)
Zero Dark Thirty is an epic undertaking that doesn’t feel as rewarding as it should when the climax is finished. I went into Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film excited for a tight thriller featuring a tour-de-force lead performance, that’s what I was led to believe from seeing trailers. I walked away feeling exhausted and a little underwhelmed but wanting to see the movie again.
This film is one that demands multiple viewings and if possible, watch it with a notepad and pen because you will need to take notes. There are more names in this movie than in a phone book but the ones to remember are: Abu Ahmed, Osama bin Laden, and Maya. At the beginning of the film, Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a young CIA operative who is assigned to work in Pakistan with a team in charge of tracking down members of Al Qaeda in the wake of 9/11. This team is led by an intense guy named Dan (Jason Clarke) who has probably seen a little too much action, and performed a few too many “interrogation” sessions. By the end of the story, Maya has channeled every ounce of her being into finding bin Laden even when others have either moved on or given up.
Chastain was a magnet for critical acclaim in this role, winning a Golden Globe for her work. I appreciated her intensity and focus but this wasn’t an Earth-shaking performance in my book as I felt the character was fairly one-dimensional and didn’t allow her much range. The most revolutionary thing about this character is that it typically would have been a part reserved for a male actor. Even if my review of her performance sounds lukewarm, Chastain is certainly the glue that holds this film together and an actress I can’t wait to see more of.
At its core, I feel like this film is about determination bordering on obsession. Maya brushes off any questions she’s asked regarding her personal life, keeping the other characters and the audience at arm’s length while completely devoting herself to her task. Maya can be seen as a symbol for the United States military or the country in general as she continues to pursue these villains for the better part of a decade, when many have decided to move on with their lives.
I give Bigelow a ton of credit for signing on to do a movie this risky but I wish the film had a little of the heart of her last work, the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker. The sheer scope of Zero Dark Thirty is impressive, as it teeters on ‘epic’ territory. I also feel like the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay should have gone to screenwriter Mark Boals, as he must have sifted through mountains of documents to put this script together and he manages to throw ten years of top secret ops. into under three hours of material.
Historically, Zero Dark Thirty is a movie that needed to be made and the cast/crew should be applauded for going forward despite a lot of political pressure to stop. The movie isn’t particularly thrilling or entertaining but at times, it feels as real as a documentary. Kathryn Bigelow continues to bring new life to the ‘war-film’ genre, while possibly re-inventing it in the process.