“Zero Dark Thirty” – Review by Christian Becker

Is the world ready for a Hollywood movie about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden? What you may not know is that the Oscar winning team behind The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal) had written the screenplay for this movie years ago, before Bin Laden had been killed. Right before production was set to begin on the film, he was killed, and a new story had to be written. I’m not sure what they were planning on doing with this film had Bin Laden not been killed and was still roaming the streets of the Middle East, but the story we have now is a truly great one.

The film opens with haunting audio tracks of recordings from the day of 9/11. The screen is dark and you are forced to sit there and listen to the destruction and terror going on. After a few seconds of sitting in silence and reflecting on what you had just heard, our story begins. I really like the overall structure in which it was told because it puts us in the hunt from beginning to end. Mark Boal did not write this for all its exciting moments, he wrote it to show every major (or sometimes minor) event that happened leading up to Bin Laden’s ultimate demise. The torture scenes that are getting a lot of talk in the media happen mostly in the beginning, and as real and revealing as they may be to the characters and the protocols taken to make sure information was uncovered, they are still hard and disgusting to watch at times. Not that this was a bad thing. Torture is not fun to watch, but this isn’t suppose to be a “fun” Friday night date film either.

Our main character is Maya, played by the sure-to-be-nominated, Jessica Chastain. Maya goes from rookie to professional in this hunt and establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with. Maya is a determined character who spends a decade of her life chasing after what many think is a pointless endeavor. Other have moved on to tragedies of the here and now, but she can’t just pack up and leave the Bin Laden case. At times, it seems Maya is an exaggerated character, getting away with things here that no other person would. She curses out her superiors and is rude toward most of them, yet they keep her around. The script also played too heavily off the fact that she was a strong woman working in a world where men are expected to excel. I respect and understand where she is coming from, but too often they have to push the gimmick that this is a woman doing all these great things, not a man. That being said, and despite how I feel about the character, I thought Chastain was incredible in this role.

The pacing of the movie was mostly fast, but like any movie that’s over two and a half hours, you’re going to get some slow parts. These parts aren’t really boring, it’s just a ton of information being thrown out, and you are either struggling to keep up or trying to remember which character is which when are referred to. I can’t really dock the movie for not being fast paced all the way through because it is not meant to be that way. This is not an action film, or even a thriller. It’s more of a drama with some action scenes in it. Although it is odd to say that this is not an action thriller considering the final Seal Team Six invasion scene was one of the most breathtaking scenes in any movie this year. I’m amazed how they were able to take an event where we all now know the outcome and still make everyone jump to the edge of their seat with anticipation for what’s going to happen next. It was filmed with quiet intensity that put you front and center with the soldiers in this raid, and it paid off incredibly well.

Many will wonder what kind of political agenda this film is promoting. Luckily, it’s a story that shies away from politics. Of course this is a topic that can’t shake it off completely, but the filmmakers do a great job of sticking to the people on the ground who are doing the investigating and interrogating, and showing the passion and determination that comes from these missions instead of showing the higher-up leaders giving their thoughts and opinions on the matter. There is a brief video clip of President Obama playing the background in one of the conference rooms, but other than that, there really isn’t much talk of him, President Bush, their administrations or hands in the process.

With a strong lead performance, a good supporting cast and a script that moves the story along at a likable pace, Zero Dark Thirty becomes more than just the “hunt for Osama” movie it is said to be. These people could been hunting for a low level terrorists or some random drug dealer, and the emotions and determination brought out by the characters and dialogue would have been just as compelling. While not the exciting thrill ride the trailer might lead you to believe, it is a story worth following and allowing yourself to be sucked into.

Grade: A- 

Fun Fact: “Zero Dark Thirty” means 12:30 AM in military time. 

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