Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty

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Fresh from her win at the Academy Awards a few years ago, Kathryn Bigelow teamed up again with Mark Boal to produce “Zero Dark Thirty,” chronicling a decade worth of intelligence efforts that ended with the death of Osama bin Laden on May 6, 2011.

The film shows the controversial “enhanced interrogations” that involve degradation, humiliation and waterboarding, but also analytical research and mundane briefings, meeting up with foreign sources and following up on leads, as well as bribery when the situation calls for it. It also shows frustrations and failures that result in costly lives, as can be seen from actual news footage on TV.

“Maya” (Jessica Chastain) is a CIA analyst with a single-minded focus and relentless determination in zeroing on bin Laden. Her life is her work and her work is finding bin Laden. As far as acting goes, she has better performances in “The Debt.” There are moments here where she over reacts and her outburst feel staged. Chastain is the center of the movie, with numerous interactions with Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle (“The King’s Speech“), Mark Strong (“Green Lantern“), Kyle Chandler (“Argo“).

The film does a good job in showing how risky it is to come up with the decision to storm the fortress. They evaluate options to obtain visual or audio confirmation first, such as using satellite pictures, taking photos from behind the trees, obtaining samples from the trash, sending a doctor in as part of a ruse. But in the end, none of the options would work, at least not without getting suspected and discovered. Aside from Maya’s unflinching confidence about the exact whereabouts of bin Laden, there is really no certainty; only a relatively strong probability.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is well-crafted, but it’s very clinical. There’s no character or plot development, background on the characters or side stories. Aside from rare fragments of tension, the first two-thirds of the film is, bluntly put, pretty boring. The last third picks up pace, starting with the discovery of the courier that leads to the compound that harbors bin Laden in the middle of the city in Pakistan.

While the film feels cold, it has a real sense of unpredictability and danger, without any glorification or glamorization. It’s especially apparent in the stealth raid in the darkness of the night. From preparing themselves in the air and on the ground, these soldiers courageously risk their lives. They don’t know what to expect when they walk into the compound. With no blaring music and actions seen through night goggle vision, the eerily quiet scenes look a lot less “Hollywood.”

The final moment of bin Laden’s life might have been met with a shot by a member of the SEAL Team Six, but a lot of blood, sweat and tears had been shed prior to the mission. “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t offer anything extraodinary. But it’s a reminder of and insight into the extraordinary efforts that went into capturing and killing the world’s number one terrorist. The greatest manhunt in history was no single shot. It also brings a somber sense of closure to 9/11, even when the war on terror never ends.

Copyright (c) 2013. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, film columnist and lifestyle/travel writer.  She can be reached at  Nathalia owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter:

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

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