‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Thrills & Satisfies The Hype (Movie Review)

I kind of feel sorry for my fellow reviewers here because for weeks now they had to hear me complain left and right about Zero Dark Thirty not being theatrically released within the calendar year of 2012 in the greatest city in the world, Cleveland, Ohio.  So therefore, just about every critic in Los Angeles or New York City had Zero Dark Thirty in their Top Ten Films of 2012 lists and I had The Woman In Black.  Woe is me, huh?  Well that’s okay.  Maybe one day I’ll be fortunate enough to live within the city of angels, but until that time comes I will take whatever I can get in the rustbelt capital of the world and enjoy my constitutional freedom by taking in the film that everyone in LA and NYC has been buzzing so loudly about…Katheryn Bigelow’s sure thing for Best Picture of the year, Zero Dark Thirty.  So while the critics elite of the world already had their day in court, join me in taking up our Midwestern constitutional arms and let’s talk some more about it, shall we?

So it begrudges me to say this, but for all intent and purposes, Zero Dark Thirty is officially billed as a 2012 American action thriller.  I’m sorry folks, but that 2012 thing is really hard for me to swallow especially when there was no way I could have seen it in 2012 here in Cleveland, Ohio.  However, I painstakingly digress.  The screenplay, billed as “the story of history’s greatest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous man” was penned by Mark Boal.  The controversial production that chronicles American efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden stars Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke and Mark Strong.  I used the word controversial because supposedly the film’s under strong criticism for its allegedly pro-torture stance and its improper access to classified materials.  But we can forgo all that mumbo jumbo and just talk about the film, right?

So as the story goes, Bigelow and Boal had initially worked on and finished a screenplay centered around the December 2001 Battle of Tora Bora, where bin Laden was once believed to be hiding.  They were about to begin filming when news broke that bin Laden had been killed. They immediately shelved the film project and started from scratch on this one. Wow!  Talk about ambitious. At least they will have another screenplay (prequel so to speak) waiting in the wings if this one is successful (LOL), which it will be. By the way, what is it with Bigelow and war films?  Hmm…  So anyway, for those wondering, Bigelow has explained that the film’s title, Zero Dark Thirty, is a military term for 30 minutes past midnight and it also refers to the secrecy that disguised the mission.

Also…before we jump into talking about the movie exclusively, I thought I would briefly mention the score real quick.  What little music there is presented throughout the film was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and composed by Alexandre Desplat.  If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Desplat, I suggest you look him up.  His resume of work blew me away.  Ouch!  I guess blew me away is a poor choice of words considering the subject matter.  Alrighty then…moving on.

So what’s it all about, circumventing the obvious?  Well, Zero Dark Thirty, in my opinion, is a deep journalistic look or recreation, in my opinion, of the ten year hunt for bin Laden and his fellow associates following the tragic 911 attacks.  And as a history lover, whether this subject matter portrayed in the film is semi-fact or completely fictitious (how will we ever really know the truth), the movie’s 157-minute run time kept my attention throughout.  It was tension filled, suspenseful and very thrilling.  So why didn’t I revere it emphatically as much as my fellow writers did?  I guess I am about to go down in history as the most hated critic for my following quip.  But hey…it goes with the business.  I’m ready for the beatings.

If I only had one complaint, and again I know I’m completely in the minority here, it would be with the character of Maya (Chastain).  Although I was on the edge of my seat the entire time as a moviegoer, I never felt a strong connection with her character.  She was tenacious.  I’ll give you that.  But I wanted to know more and why.  She always felt very cold and detached and as the hero of the film, I never completely bonded with and embraced her.  We learn a smudge little bit about her character and her backstory through dialog, but I felt I never truly knew her and I never felt that rah rah connection with her.  I’m greedy and I wanted more development.  I’m sure others will say I am full of it and I probably am, but if you are going to win me over, then you better be prepared to be both Batman and Bruce Wayne in my world.  The honest to God truth, I was completely immersed in Jason Clarke’s character of Dan and I wanted to go on this journey with him, but I wasn’t allowed.  I just felt like he was a much richer character, but I needed to understand one important thing.  This was a journalistic approach at recounting the actual events that went down.  Hollywood scribes can’t pick or choose their heroes in that respect, but I guess I would have been happier with a little more development.  I’m allowed an opinion, right?

So with that one quip above aside, Zero Dark Thirty takes its viewing audience on one hell of a ride and what I like about it is the fact that it’s not apologetic.  It’s not patriotism shoved down your throat.  It is what it is.  It’s simply a manhunt to kill the man responsible for the lives of over 3,000 Americans, nothing more…nothing less.  There are no Hollywood glorifications and glamorization to be found here.  If you don’t like the use of torture to get the answers you need to protect the lives of innocent citizens, then look elsewhere folks.  Zero Dark Thirty does not shy away from the cold brutality and reality of it all.  People get shot and go down just like they do in real life…in real raids, car bombings and such.  Nothing is overly exemplified or blown out of proportion here.  While that’s refreshing to some, it might isolate and instill boredom in others not interested in the subject.  I just wonder how much replay value Zero Dark Thirty will get from me.  It’s not as rich in character development, in my opinion, compared to Bigelow’s last outing, The Hurt Locker, but it definitely doesn’t lack a good story either.  Even though I knew the ending, I still wanted to know how it all went down.  And now that I know…will I want to watch it again?  I can’t say for sure right now.  Only time will tell.  It won’t get a repeat visit from me theatrically like Django Unchained did, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing either.

So there you have it.  With the Oscar nominations hitting yesterday, Django Unchained now has my vote for Best Picture of the year.  It’s the most fun I had at the movies in a long time and the finest product Tarantino has put out since Pulp Fiction, in my opinion.  So don’t go to the theater to see Zero Dark Thirty because everyone says you have to.  Go because you want to see it.  You are investing a great deal of time in this movie.  Make sure you are going for all the right reasons.  Yes…I wanted to see what all the hype was about, but make no mistake, the long run time went by very quickly for me because I was wholeheartedly invested in the story and honest to God even jumped a few times (embarrassingly) when unannounced explosions rocked the screen.  I just wish I felt more strongly about Chastain’s character, Maya.  Maybe a second viewing on Blu-ray will do the trick.  Until then…enjoy this one over the weekend!



13 Responses to “‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Thrills & Satisfies The Hype (Movie Review)”

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Glad you enjoyed it.

    It’s very deliberately not rich with character development, part of why the supposed “controversy” is ridiculous, since the movie doesn’t present any sort of stance about torture via characters taking time to question if what they done was right. It’s all procedural.

  2. Brian White

    I completely understand Aaron, and that’s why there was no way I could give this movie a 5. I wrestled all morning between a 4.5 and a 4 because it’s hard for me to get behind a film and characters that I feel no emotional attachment to. Despite all the ways 911 affected my life, this film did not move me in any way other than a good time at the cinema (sad to say). It just had an effective forward moving pace that really grabbed me from the get-go and sucked me in. If not for that, then I would definitely have scored it lower.

  3. Gerard Iribe

    You don’t know too much about her, because it’s classified. They even touch upon that.

  4. Aaron Neuwirth

    I mean, the fact that we are given so little, yet I was still able to respond to someone like Dan (Jason Clarke is amazing in this movie) and especially Maya (whose final moment in this movie is ridiculously moving, given how there it’s simply framed), within the realm of this amazing procedural film, among a few other notable characters, is why I could easily go 5 on it. People outright telling me their emotions doesn’t make me automatically care for them more.

  5. Brian White

    Really? See that’s where I differ. I felt nothing for Maya during that ending shot no matter how perfectly framed it was. I just watched the Just Seen It video here and I agree with everything except the Jessica praise. Here’s why. I don’t understand why she was so obsessed with catching Osama. Dan was much more interesting to me. I wanted to know what made this guy tick and what his sense of duty was. I guess Jessica felt like a robot. She expressed no emotions minus that tear. I really had no interest in her. I just wanted to catch bin laden and learn how they found where he was. But at the end of the day, I think we can all can agree this is a thrilling picture to watch. It certainly went by a heck of a lot faster than The Hobbit did. And yes, I can agree…this is simply a procedural film. I generally tend not to like these, but the story was so well driven…you just can’t help not liking it.

  6. Gregg

    This movie just didn’t do it for me. I was bored through most of it as a matter of fact. With that being said, I don’t think it could’ve been done any better. Brian, your text said something different than your review. Am I talking to two different people? I’m glad this movie didn’t get the Hollywood falsehoods and makeovers attached to it. Like you mentioned, no fake patriotism, etc. I generally like political and military-related films, but this was really neither. It was very analytical, very research-based. The main characters spend most of their time following leads and researching. I get it. That’s the reality of what happened. For a movie though, it didn’t work for me.

  7. Brian White

    Sometimes there’s three of me.

    As Aaron said it was procedural journalism. Nothing more. Nothing less. I loved the story, but would never give a Best Picture to it.

  8. Aaron Neuwirth

    After seeing it again (because of how well it worked as a movie for me), I just find it astounding how amazing Chastain is in the film and how much we are able to learn about her, as we watch her grow over the course of the film, given how little details we are explicitly told.

  9. Brian White

    Help me. Other than learning she was drafted out of high school, is tenacious, was obviously in live with that other female agent…I know nothing about her. Oh she has a potty mouth too. Horrible way to talk professionally in a government meeting.

  10. Aaron Neuwirth

    Aaron Sorkin has a made a career out of people swearing in an office environment.

    Among the many things about her: The way her character evolves over the 8 years we watch her regarding how she handles torture, the way she addresses various people earlier on vs. how her relationships with her co-workers change, the authority she starts to exert over time as she is given more credit for her work and abilities, the reactions she has to various bombings, how her time in the middle east makes her look more and more physically worn down, her choice of words “I believe I was spared…” – complete indication of another piece of her character.

    Also, a thing I didn’t notice the first time: She has a daughter.

  11. Brian White

    A daughter?! Get out of town. I guess I need to see this a second time. Damn Aaron. Thanks! You are my official movie authority.

  12. Gregg

    Yeah I had little attachment to Chastain. She did good, but the girl in the Just Seen It review built her up to levels of Oscar-worthy. Didn’t see that at all. Still waiting for that.

  13. Aaron Neuwirth

    The Oscars, Globes, and tons of other awards have also built her up to levels of Oscar-worthy 😉