Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty

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Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty  (2013) 
by Michael E. Davis Jr.

Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty[edit]

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael E. Davis Jr.

The greatest manhunt in history was expounded through the greatest medium in the world – film.

I’ve come to the realization that to explain a successful synopsis, in most cases it’s not what you say, but how you say it. It’s not the words you pitch, but how dramatically you pitch it. And it’s not the story you tell, but how you tell it.

Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) tells a story to which we all know the ending, but how she tells it puts “Zero Dark Thirty” in a nomination for Best Picture in the 85th Academy Awards. Since the successful award-winning outcome of the 2008 film “The Hurt Locker,” Bigelow reunites with Oscarwinning writer-producer Mark Boal to tell the story - in a chronological format - of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. The film also portrays Osama’s death at the hands of the NAVY SEAL Team 6 in May 2011.

The film immediately gets your attention with an interrogation scene set in a black site back in 2003 in which Maya (Jessica Chastain, “Lawless”), a young Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, takes part. A fellow CIA officer, Dan (Jason Clarke, “Lawless”), leads the interrogation of Ammar - a detainee with suspected links to several Saudi terrorists.

After taking a break from the interrogation, the young CIA officer, who first comes off as innocent, suggests to Dan that they go back in and interrogate even more. Her urge to go back in without a mask sets off a passion, a yearning and a determination that we see in her throughout the rest of the film.

“If you lie to me, I hurt you,” says Dan to Ammar in a calm but intimidating tone. Ammar doesn’t give Dan the information that he wants, so water-boarding follows. In the midst of covering the detainee’s face with a cloth and pouring water down his mouth until he almost drowns, Maya does her best at stomaching the disturbing act in the hope of getting information.

How the film was shot and directed provided a mood similar to “The Hurt Locker,” and because “Zero Dark Thirty” showed here at GTMO, Troopers watching the film seemed to relate to it as well.

GTMO was referenced a couple of times in the film, which even showed news clips of President Barack Obama addressing his no-torture policy as the time progressed in the film. Being a part of JTF GTMO’s missions of conducting safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detainees, I could also relate to the film and the political changes that were occurring during its chronological format.

“Zero Dark Thirty” was shot similar to a documentary with the heavy use of handheld camera movements and the segments that were displayed by title cards on the screen. Many may have thought the title cards were a bold decision made by Bigelow and Boal, but I thought they were unique and a great tool to keep the audience up to speed on what was going on in the film.

Like I said before, many people know the history because we are in tune with the news, but I thought Bigelow and Boal were successful in making this film because it shows us how history unfolded and kept the viewer’s attention with the sporadic action scenes and wonderful acting performances.

Chastain, who already won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role in “Zero Dark Thirty,” is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress as well. With the help of Bigelow’s direction, she definitely gives a human feel to the film, as she displayed such a dramatic and heart-felt performance.

At the point of the film where the CIA gives its mid-range percent confidence in Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts and Maya gives her with-out-a-doubt 95 percent - leaving the other five percent off just to satisfy her counterparts - the film goes into act three and introduces Patrick (Joel Edgerton, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”) - squadron team leader for Navy SEAL Team 6.

As the actual hunt for Osama bin Laden begins in the early morning at a large urban compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, we get a sense of why the film is actually called “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Bigelow supports the title as she displays most of the raid sequence in nearly total darkness. The sequence reminded me of the short scene in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs” when Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is trying to track down serial killer James “Buffalo Bill” Gumb (Ted Levine) in the dark and random green tinted point of view shots of night vision goggles are shown.

Bigelow doesn’t really glorify the killing of Osama bin Laden and rather portrays him as sort of a dark figure. She doesn’t even reveal his face. “Zero Dark Thirty” is a must-see. How Bigelow portrayed history is just amazing. I give this film four and a half banana rats.