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Review: Zero Dark Thirty

January 22, 2013

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


Katherine Bigelow, the women who changed film history by winning both an OSCAR and BAFTA for her film Hurt Locker returns with her latest film Zero Dark Thirty (a military term meaning 30 minutes after midnight), a post 9/11 action thriller that looks at the harsh realities and the lengths and efforts of the C.I.A in the search for Al-Qaeda leader and America’s most wanted man Osama Bin Laden.  Zero Dark Thirty is an exceptionally well crafted and well-researched account of true events, dramatized and cleverly fictionalised by Academy Award winning screenwriter Mark Boal.

Bigelow is undoubtedly a talented filmmaker and excellent at her craft and this could not be more evident than in the harrowingly, disturbing opening minutes of the film. Darkness, emotions rapidly consumed; layered voice-overs of victims and rescue workers resonate as one seeks momentary reflection of the anguish and heartache of the events of 9/11. Bigelow denies us any solace as she facilitates her audience into “Black site” a CIA compound in Pakistan. Sunlight escapes from holes into a claustrophobic room where terrorist Ammar (Reda Kateb) is being tortured by CIA agent Dan (Jason Clarke) as the fear of terror begins to sink in. The torture scenes are by far the most emotionally unsettling and excruciatingly painful scenes to stomach in the film and Bigelow uses Maya’s (Jessica Chastain) eyes to capture this distress and fear so beautifully. Maya is presented as an archetypal big-screen hero and ne’er sexualised (a trait of a female director) which creates a mystique around her allowing Chastain to really develop a tough, disconnected, and emotionless persona which she excels at.

Bigelow creates a sense of stark realism through her educated use of cinéma vérité style of filming which not only gives it a documentary feel but also creates a false pretence of chaotic urgency. The film moves at a steady pace as Dan and Maya gather intelligence and follow leads, whilst little back-story  develops on the central characters, an intention set out by Boal.  The last thirty climactic minutes of the film are intense, haunting and suspenseful as it reconstructs the emotional anguish of the brave soldiers that took down Bin Laden. Bigelow uses a mix of green lit night-vision shots juxtaposed with long moments of empty darkness to create anxiety and nervousness that sits on par with works of Alfred Hitchcock.


Zero Dark Thirty is quite simply an exhilaratingly profound film that dares to touch a subject matter that everyone seems to know so much about but yet so little. Its disturbing real-life like grittiness captivates you throughout a trait that belongs to a bold auteur like Bigelow.  Jessica Chastain delivers an exceptional performance and carries the entire film on her shoulders with ease; she has made her mark and conquered Hollywood. Zero Dark Thirty requires a lot from its viewers but it’s a worthy investment that no doubt will stay engraved in your imagination, long after the ending.

Rehan Yasin.

Zero Dark Thirty is released in UK cinemas, Friday 25th January 2013.