ZERO DARK THIRTY
A dramatised chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-
Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and
his death at the hands of the Navy SEAL Team 6 in May, 2011.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There are few films that can
summon up such global interest and confidently, credibly use
grandiose descriptions, such as 'the greatest manhunt in history'
- recent as it is. In fact, it is perhaps too recent for the
filmmakers to see it from the clarifying distance of time, and in
their haste, they garble some of the most interesting and
Perhaps garbled is too strong a
term, but compounded by poor dialogue reproduction (seemingly an
epidemic in Hollywood) in the first 30 minutes or so, it is the
word that comes to mind. This distracting flaw invades the way
the film plays, aggravated by such heavy-handed use of CIA covert
ops jargon as to make many exchanges between key characters
But if we go with the flow and consider the
big picture of the story, the film delivers its payload well
enough, narrowed and honed down to its focus on the CIA's
dedicated and relatively low-ranked operative, Maya (Jessica
Chastain) whose determination to find and kill Osama bin Laden
seems to have been the key factor in making it happen.
Chastain is excellent as the sometimes foulmouthed
intelligence overseer whose loyalty and zeal are unquestionable,
as are her patriotic motives. Matching her performance is
Australian born Jason Clarke as Dan, the interrogating specialist
who commands the first part of the film. All the rest are
supports, and able ones, but the story hangs on these two as we
move from one CIA 'black site' to another around the globe.
The film is made as an action thriller, a contempo espionage
story whose factual elements have been drawn from personal
accounts, we are told, as writer Mark Boal led the research.
Sometimes the story telling loses its coherence but the thrust
and the tension remain; indeed, it is the High Value Target who
glues us to our seats, and knowing that it is Osama bin Laden
relieves the filmmakers of some responsibility to generate their
own stakes, their own clear path to his door.
that information available, I am surprised how little detail we
can actually make out - details that are important as the crumbs
that leave a vital trail. It's ambitious to cover a decade of
such a complex manhunt, but the screenplay manages to gives us a
sense of the ups and downs, the mistakes and good fortunes of
those involved. It's a very different film to Seal Team Six (also reaching Australia in
January 2013, on DVD) which concentrates on the raid - and shows
the final assault with even more attention to detail.
mission to kill bin Laden was wrapped in the Stars and Stripes as
balm on wound of 9/11; this film shows the flag waving
majestically in the breeze, thanks to the dedicated Americans who
fight for the country's security every day.
Thirty (army talk for midnight, when the raid began) is a film
that most Americans will no doubt embrace in a patriotic hug,
although some will have misgivings about the use of torture on
detainees. But the film's depiction of such torture doesn't
condone it; it's a record of it, as part of the narrative jigsaw
drawn from those who were involved.
Review by Louise
Utilising the same intense mis-en-scene approach
used in her Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow's
depiction of the hunt and capture of Osama bin Laden is an
ambitious and eye-opening work, the scale of the topic giving
weight to the narrative. Journalist Mark Boal, who won the Oscar
for best original screenplay for The Hurt Locker has meticulously
researched the facts with which to populate his screenplay, and
in doing so, offers a unique insight into the workings of the CIA
and its operatives. He also brings to the fore the keen and vital
involvement of a CIA officer named Maya (Jessica Chastain), who,
if we believe everything we see onscreen, is largely responsible
for the capture of the world's most wanted man.
much to absorb and appreciate, including a sense of the cultures
involved and the way life works in countries such as Pakistan and
Kuwait. The way Australian cinematographer Greig Fraser captures
extraordinary faces in the streets of Pakistan in particular,
allows us a real sense of being there. We can almost smell the
local streets and feel the searing heat prickling through the
dust. But the faces and surroundings are only the backdrop for
what is the main event, the road that leads to Osama bin Laden.
If I have a reservation about the film, it is the way
Maya is depicted as a Hollywood heroine. I am not doubting her
role in the events or the fact that she is clearly obsessed by
her mission, I simply wonder whether the character is glorified
to the point that it detracts from the situations and the lead up
to the climactic events.
Chastain is a great talent and
she easily assumes the role with tenacity and charisma. The scene
when she identifies herself to James Gandolfini as 'That m-fer
who found the house' is one that almost demands a cheer from the
audience. From innocent protagonist to assertive heroine, Maya's
journey is the one constant to which the audience can cling. In
the film's tough opening scenes, when she witnesses a prisoner
graphically being tortured by her colleague Dan (Jason Clarke),
Maya is clearly mirroring the emotions that we feel. Very soon,
it is she who is asking the questions.
camera gives a sense of immediacy and much of the early part of
the film flits to different parts of the globe, including London
for the 2005 terrorist bus explosion and Islamabad for the
Marriott Hotel bomb blast. A solid cast including Kyle Chandler
and Jennifer Ehle flesh out the specifics of the everyday
occurrences that provide a springboard for the final mission in
which Joel Edgerton plays a small role.
As Maya identifies
the man she considers to be "the key to Bin Laden", the courier
who uses a phone from his white SUV, driving around the streets
of Peshawar, the tension starts to mount. Zero Dark Thirty is
military jargon for 'the dark of the night', the tense moment
shortly after midnight when the tight knit group of US Navy SEALs
descends onto the compound fortress, wearing night goggles and
ready for action. This is the scene that we have all been waiting
for and by the time it arrives, it feels almost anticlimactic.
The footage is grainy and while this may be how the events played
out, it is often difficult to see exactly what is happening and
never feels an entirely satisfying climactic end to the 10 year
As a work that examines the events in the lead up
to Osama bin Laden's capture and demise, Bigelow's film offers
gravitas in its depiction - and rightly so, a monumental moment
in the war against terrorism.
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ZERO DARK THIRTY (M)
CAST: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, James Gandolfini, Stephen Dillane, John Schwab, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, Nash Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Reda Kateb, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Jeremy Strong, J. J. Kandel, Simon Abkarian, Parker Sawyers, Mark Duplass
PRODUCER: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Megan Ellison
DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow
SCRIPT: Mark Boal
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Greig Fraser
EDITOR: William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jeremy Hindle
RUNNING TIME: 157 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 31, 2013