Zero Dark Thirty (2012) Review

director: Kathryn Bigelow

writer: Mark Boal

starring: Jessica Chastein, Clark, Mark Strong and

genre: Thriller | Spy

released: December 19, 2012 (U.S.), January 31, 2013 (Germany), February 21, 2013 (Greece)

When you can get beyond the controversy of torture, the American only standpoint the film presents and also any kind of anti-American rhetoric you may have. What remains to be found in "Zero Dark Thirty" is a great thriller that captures the hunt for Bin Laden with the utmost detail and passion. A accomplishment that has to be recognized objectively and without bias. This is one film once you start, you will be heart-wrenched not to finish it.


From whence the 9/11 terrorist attack happened. The only reasonable thought that came to every Americans mind was the capture or assassination of the terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden, whom was behind the attacks.

The film covers the whole hunt, from C.I.A. headquarters, to the Pentagon, to Pakistani & Afghanistan operations H.Q. for the CIA and even to terrorist detainee sites and covert operation locations.

All this is covered from the eyes of a young CIA intelligence agent called Maya (Jessica Chastain). She and other CIA members and military personal. Through analysis, gathering of intelligence, lots of hours of surveillance and torture. Get inch by inch closer to their ultimate target, but with many risks to take and boundaries to overcome.

What proved fortunate in the end, was the vigor of a few strong willed men and women on the hunt. When nobody believed in the mission or even thought that the smallest bread crumb would lead to the eventual downfall to one of the most devastating terrorist organizations in history. Some continued on and finished the mission with valor.


What "Zero Dark Thirty" and also "Argo" had going against them last year as films, even more than the controversial and American leaning material. Was that they are both espionage/political thrillers of events that have already occurred. Their job of making the audience not only forget that fact, but also making us contemplate, guess and anticipate on the how the film will end is a amazing accomplishment. Especially when we not only know the outcome, but also when we wouldn't have even thought these to be stories that could be so easily transferred to the big screen. Filled with so many details and insight to events that nobody barely even knows the details.

Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal team up again after the "Hurt Locker" and go for a another close to heart American story connected to the military and the consequences of a war. This time instead of going for the ground level grunt, they go with the CIA analyst who is are guide on the hunt for Bin Laden. She is new to the spy game, but once the years pass by she is the real brass knuckles behind the CIA chase and operation.

The film is based upon the hunt for Bin Laden and starts at the beginning of the search right after 9/11. The film follows closely the interrogations, tortures, analyzation of evidence and the in depth search within the Middle East. All of the information gained by the production for the film, is factual with information given by the CIA, Seal Team Six and from undisclosed other personal. Now there has been a big hupla/scandal on how much is true, who exactly and how much info they gave and which parts of the film are embellished. All of which has led to a discussion in the U.S. Senate and a possible government hearing to see who spilled the beans.

If that wasn't enough, this isn't the only part where people have got their panties in a knot. Many are freaking out over the torture scenes in the film and not because their offensive or too disturbing, but whether if torture is what led to the capture of Bin Laden and if it was morally right or not. Also if all the criticism that was laid on the Bush era administration was warranted or not.

Firstly this topic dosen't damage the film as a thriller. Secondly the film actually dosen't show or state that torture leads to the information or to the direct capture of Bin Laden. Without ruining the film, it actually shows in a way that the information came out of the in-affect of torture and a trick being played on a terrorist detainee. So in a way the torture didn't work, but the mind game did. So without the torture there wouldn't have been the opportunity for the mind game. In essence it helped, but not directly.

Moving away from that tricky subject. Bigelow and Boal prove to be the double hit of realistic and gritty military operations on film. Boal with his investigative journalist background and Bigelow's sophisticated method of directing the action. Their take on this kind of material isn't flashy or done in the typical Hollywood manner. Bigelow dosen't ever go for laughs or for a propagandistic type of look on the U.S. for or even against. She presents the events and actions as they are, in a fair and balanced manner. The film never tries to influence you, but only to show you how truly hazardous, dirty and spontaneous these operations can be.

From the beginning the film is a slow burn and by the end it catches on fire. It shows us how the spy world really works and it ain't glamorous. The good guys usually either don't get the job done, aren't even remembered or live to tell the tale even if they do. In the end just like in the Hurt Locker, the protagonists state of mind is ambiguous. As what they've gone through is a constant state of war, which is the only thing they know how to do. Their purpose is at question, even if they come out on top.


The spy game ain't as easy as we think, their are obstacles that are unforeseeable and a lot of foot work to get done. War pushes always the limits of what constitutes rules of engagement, honor between foes and lengths and boundaries you would go to defend your kin. No matter your political affiliation or nationality. This a great thriller, an incredible production, an accurate representation of the CIA hunt of Bin Laden and the incredible mission that Seal Team 6 had to accomplish. Well worth your time.

Personal Rating:

5 Stars.jpg

review by Paul Katsaros

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