Film review: Zero Dark Thirty

By Helene Wong In Movie Reviews

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24th January, 2013 Leave a Comment

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Zero Dark Thirty: a compelling watch

At 2½ hours, this is still a trim film, spanning as it does the decade of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Its economy, exemplified by a brief opening evocation of 9/11 by voices over a black screen, makes for a taut, compelling watch. Though not as gut-churningly tense as Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker –the combat zone here is offices, interrogation cells and internal struggle – it has the same matter-of-fact tone. Only in the third act, when the action switches to Pakistan and the Abbottabad compound, do we move to the edge of the seat. Even then, it’s all business and stripped-back documentary reality.

But it’s not a documentary, so prepare for a dramatisation that compresses time and telescopes hundreds of CIA operatives down to one protagonist. The latter, played by Jessica Chastain, has to reflect the experiences of the many: patient tradecraft, disappointment, loss, sexism, moral conflict and obsessive determination. The film and performances deliver all these, and although Chastain’s fragility and the lack of a backstory and arc don’t make for a completely convincing character, there wouldn’t be too many other A-list actresses who could do this and still seem sufficiently anonymous.

Rating 4.5/5

ZERO DARK THIRTY, directed by Kathryn Bigelow


Films are rated out of 5: 1 = abysmal; 5 = amazing

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