Zero Dark Thirty begins in 2003 with the torture, ahem, discussion, with captured terrorist, Ammar (Reda Kateb), a man who was caught because his name is linked to a $5,000 Western Union transfer to a 9/11 hijacker, not to mention the 150kg of explosives they found in his house.
Dan (Jason Clarke) and relative newcomer Maya (Jessica Chastain) are demanding their detainee gives them information about a series of terrorists all leading up to kingpin Abu Ahmed (Tushaar Mehra); The methods we see employed include waterboarding and, personally, I have no problem with the use of this tactic against terrorist suspects, given how they clearly have no issues with blowing up innocent civilians on a whim.
Chastain is the lead in this film as we follow her character over the years up until 2011 and the plan to capture and/or kill Osama Bin Laden, the main prize who, she’s reminded by CIA Islamabad Station Chief Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), is so elusive that she’s “chasing a ghost” and that for all it matters, Bin Laden might be dead. However, while we know the eventual outcome, the path taken isn’t as engaging as the media hype would have you believe and, for the most part, she does a lot of investigating and everyone talks a lot.
You can tell also that Maya’s journey won’t be all plain sailing when she’s told, “Once you’re on the list of the terrorists, you never get off…”, i.e. white faces in Pakistan quickly become targets, regardless of whether you’re with the government or not, as the bad guys won’t care either way.
There’s reasonable support from Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau and Mark Strong as other government types, but it’s Chastain’s movie here, and no-one is allowed to take over.
The first half of this film really needs some cutting down. I realise they’re trying to get across a real-life story and that there’s a lot to tell, but it’s so damn slow and really needs editing, especially in the light of Homeland having since been on our TV screens, and, obviously, the original Israeli series, Prisoners of War. I’ve only seen the American programme, but both that and Zero Dark Thirty are centred around a forthright woman in her thirties ultimately putting their nation’s safety at its height. Sadly, up until the mid-point, this film is like watching most of the boring bits of Homeland strung together.
Things do improve after that, however, especially with the final act, regarding the assault to capture “UBL”, as they call him, which is mostly filmed in night-vision and, for a gamer like me, had the feel of a SOCOM game on the PS2 and PSP, so I enjoyed that, although we all know how it turns out, so there’s no surprises to be found.
One other problem: There’s a hell of a lot of mumbling in this film so, without subtitles, how on earth are you going to understand what anyone’s saying? SPEAK UP, MAN! (and women)
Overall, this was overlong and a disappointment. Director Kathryn Bigelow‘s last film, The Hurt Locker, was another critical hit, but for me, aside from several jaw-dropping moments after you see what the EODs (Explosive Ordinance Disposal technicians) have to go through, there wasn’t a great deal to it, and what there was, was very bitty and brief. For entertainment, give me Strange Days and Point Break over either of these two films.
There’s no getting away from it, and I know I mention this comparison again, but Zero Dark Thirty would’ve had a lot more impact had we not seen it all before in Homeland.
Running time: 157 minutes
Released: January 25th 2013
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Producers: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal and Megan Ellison
Screenplay: Mark Boal
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Maya: Jessica Chastain
Dan: Jason Clarke
Patrick, Red Squadron Team Leader: Joel Edgerton
George: Mark Strong
Jessica: Jennifer Ehle
Joseph Bradley, CIA Islamabad Station Chief: Kyle Chandler
National Security Advisor: Stephen Dillane
Jack: Harold Perrineau
Ammar: Reda Kateb
CIA Director Leon Panetta: James Gandolfini
John: Scott Adkins
Osama bin Laden: Ricky Sekhon
Jeremy: John Barrowman
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.