Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Poster for 2013 thriller film Zero Dark Thirty

Genre: Thriller
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 25th January 2013
Runtime: 157 minutes
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong
Synopsis: After the 9/11 terror attacks, a driven CIA agent attempts to track down the mastermind behind the atrocity, by any means necessary.




A film about the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden was an inevitably. It was simply a case of how long it would take. Fortunately (or unfortunately), the Oscar-winning director of The Hurt Locker Kathryn Bigelow was in the middle of conceiving a film about the failed hunt for Bin Laden when the US raided a residence in Pakistan and returned with the bullet-ridden corpse of the world’s most wanted man. In the wake of these events, Zero Dark Thirty was born.

Unfortunately, like The Hurt Locker before it, Zero Dark Thirty is a little bit rubbish. It’s divided distinctly into two halves: the fast-paced thriller of the first 100 minutes and the final hour’s video game-esque raid on Bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout.

The first (good) half pivots around the stunning work done by Jessica Chastain in the central role as CIA operative Maya. She works with Jason Clarke’s no-nonsense proponent of what Kathryn Bigelow has repeatedly referred to as “harsh tactics.” It is these scenes that have stoked the fire of controversy around Zero Dark Thirty. Plainly, the film does not advocate the use of torture and merely reflects the ambivalence of its characters who merely see techniques such as waterboarding as part of the job.

The torture sequences are harrowing and hard-hitting, providing an unsettling backdrop to the gradual reveal of information leading the team closer to the man at the top. At this point, Zero Dark Thirty plays out as a regular, conventional thriller.

Then they find where Bin Laden is. This leads to the relentlessly dull last hour of Zero Dark Thirty, which features a lot of talking in rooms by people so boring even Mark Strong struggles to save them. It’s at this point that a hugely distracting cameo from a famous television actor derails the entire film even further.

But what follows is worse as the raid on Bin Laden’s home unfolds. Bigelow’s direction is entirely lacking in suspense and the raid sequence plays out like the audience is watching someone else play Call of Duty, which couldn’t possibly be less interesting. It’s the same problem that plagued The Hurt Locker as the action set pieces unfolded in the most boring and least suspenseful way possible. Even Chastain fizzles out and spends the entire final hour of the film just looking exceptionally sad.

It’s a shame because Zero Dark Thirty is very close to being a strong dramatic thriller. It boasts a great central performance and a timely premise, but it unfortunately doesn’t quite deliver the explosive thrills it promises.


Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

One thought on “Review: Zero Dark Thirty

  • 31/01/2013 at 18:22

    What I admire so much about Zero Dark Thirty is it’s guts so show the events leading up to this very touchy subject. Guts, that you rarely see in movies nowadays. Good review Tom.


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