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Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty | Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton | Director: Kathryn Bigelow


Zero Dark Thirty…where to begin? Everyone knows the basic story behind the movie: it’s a telling of the killing of Osama bin Laden. To scream “spoilers” at this revelation would just be someone crying for attention. But, the movie didn’t get a free pass: there was a political hailstorm of flak behind its making: people screaming partisanship, people saying they got access to classified information, people saying it was pro-torture. Whatever. This isn’t an article where the merits of waterboarding are discussed; it’s a thing that happened, and let’s leave it at that.

The movie centers on a young CIA operative named Maya (Jessica Chastain) who has spent her entire career at this point using intelligence leads to find and kill Osama bin Laden. At various CIA black sites, she is witness to the torture of several prisoners, and…it is a tough watch. There is the aforementioned waterboarding, but there’s also humiliation, starvation, isolation, and various other methods.

Through it all, Maya’s maturation from naïve agent to a world-weary professional is evident on screen at every turn, and that is a testament to Jessica Chastain’s performance. Her obsession to track down bin Laden’s courier Abu Ahmed becomes our obsession. When she’s out for dinner with her friend Jessica – and she just happens to be at the 2008 Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing – we feel the unnerving fear of death. When she experiences loss, we grieve with her.

Part of the reason we feel so attached is because the movie feels so atmospheric. The score by Alexandre Desplat isn’t overbearing; it’s almost unnoticeable. This is the same composer who did the beautiful music in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” so he is able to pull off some vibrant scores, but here, it barely peeks out above the surface. The cinematography is splendid, as is the editing. The cinematography actually helps to make the last 45 minutes of this movie harrowing.


There are a lot of familiar faces in this film: just to name a few, Kyle Chandler has a long run as the CIA Station Chief in Islamabad, Mark Duplass, Harold Perrineau (so THAT’S what he’s been doing!), James Gandolfini as Leon Panetta, and Captain Jack Harkness…I’m sorry…John Barrowman. Ricky Sekhon has the job of playing the world’s most wanted terrorist, and that’s just chilling.

Take a look at that rating above, folks: that “R” is a hard “R”. There’s torture, there’s people getting killed, and there’s strong language. How strong? When asked by Leon Panetta who Maya was, instead of giving her name, she says, “I’m the motherfucker who found this place. Sir.” If you’re thinking about taking your children, you may want to think twice. Then, think again. 

Zero Dark Thirty was already being talked about as an Academy Award nominated film from the jump, and the nominations didn’t disappoint. The film has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Editing, and Best Film Editing. Any award it receives will be just, but if Jessica Chastain doesn’t win Best Actress, then the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is asleep at the wheel.

It takes one hell of a movie to supplant Marvel’s The Avengers as my movie of the year; this does it. It comes with the highest of recommendations. You won’t be disappointed.

About Joseph Seltzer (401 Articles)
Joseph K. Seltzer is a movie reviewer for When not writing or talking obsessively about the art of movies and TV to anyone who will pretend to listen – especially when it comes to his love for the musical score – he works as a Help Desk technician for a local school board. Generally, you can find him either burrowed in front of the TV watching movies or playing video games, or spending time with his precocious daughter.
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2 Comments on Zero Dark Thirty

  1. I was planning to wait for DVD, but this review may have changed my mind.

    • It’s a spectacular movie, and it kept me riveted from the opening scene to the closing moments. In fact, the opening moments of the film immediately hits you in the feels. Not gonna say what it is, but it’s rough.

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