Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

February 15, 2013

Hard trail

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:37 pm

February 15, 2013

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, James Gandolfini, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Chris Pratt, Joel Edgerton

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Chances are that you’ve read or watched several news reports about the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in May 2011. Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, not only shows us what might have actually happened that night, but also tells the complex and riveting tale of the almost decade-long hunt for bin Laden following the attacks of 9/11.

Shooting the film with a documentary-like urgency, Bigelow goes for a tone that’s real and believable. Along with screenwriter Mark Boal, she navigates a landscape far tougher than their Oscar-winning last film The Hurt Locker.

Quickly and powerfully dealing with the events of 9/11 in a chilling opening scene, Zero Dark Thirty cuts directly to the years of interrogations, torture sessions, devastating setbacks, false leads, and the losses of many a life that led to the discovery of bin Laden’s whereabouts and his eventual killing.

The film became embroiled in controversy over its scenes of torture, with Bigelow and Boal being accused of fabricating the truth by suggesting that torture was in fact used to obtain crucial information that led the CIA to bin Laden. The makers in turn have insisted that the events of the film are based on firsthand accounts. Look beyond the controversy however, and one thing is clear: dramatically speaking, Bigelow and Boal give us a film that never rings untrue.

Weighing in at two hours and forty minutes, the film’s labyrinthine quest for the al Qaida leader is seen through the eyes of Maya, a doggedly determined CIA agent played by Jessica Chastain, who never loses sight of her goal even when all leads go cold. One of the few women in a predominantly masculine world, Maya goes from circumspect to obsessive, and Chastain delivers a terrific performance down to her final moment on screen, alone on a plane. Bigelow surrounds her protagonist with a solid supporting cast including Jason Clarke as a ruthless interrogation expert and James Gandolfini as the director of the CIA.

Zero Dark Thirty kicks into action-movie mode in its final act when those twin stealth helicopters swoop in on the Abbottabad compound and the Navy SEALs assigned the mission work their way methodically from floor to floor and room to room. Seen mostly through the green glow of night-vision goggles, this is the film’s most thrilling portion even though you already know the outcome.

The film, whose title means thirty minutes past midnight, is masterfully directed by a filmmaker who refuses to take any political stance, but nevertheless offers her viewers endless material to debate. I’m going with four out of five for Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. This is no jingoistic flag-waving revenge saga, but a thought-provoking and realistic account of the dark side of the war on terror. Don’t miss it!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


  1. The best movie of this season. It is leagues ahead of all the other movies of 2012. I was in a fit of rage when Bigelow wasn’t nominated. Jessica Chastain is terrific and deserves all accolades possible. The movie doesn’t take any sides, it’s neutral to the point and a thrilling depiction of the events . The brilliance of Bigelow is when she shows the children and the pool of blood during the raid. It would be awesome if you could tell why YOU think she gets emotional at the end of the movie. Cheers 🙂

    Comment by Aditya. K — February 16, 2013 @ 12:31 am

  2. Really enjoyed the review. Keep up the fantastic work. It was one of the best movies of the year. Here is my review of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ http://aajani.blogspot.ca/2013/02/movie-review-zero-dark-thirty_9.html

    Comment by Amin Ajani — February 16, 2013 @ 12:37 am

  3. The lead upto the final shootings are well framed, movie is well directed complemented by a stellar performance by Jessica Chastain.

    Comment by Shankz — February 16, 2013 @ 12:40 am

  4. I dont think its very much thought provoking or as you said politically neutral. Plus everyone who was tortured or interrogated was an Al-qayeda assoiciate. Also there was repetition of the fact that 3000 ppl lost their lives in the horrific tragedy. It would have been a more balanced movie if there would had been any account (even if small) of thousand innocents that got killed or were tortured post 9/11.No doubt its an engaging movie,but it is not at all an honest account of anything for that matter.

    Comment by Eshan — February 17, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

  5. I felt the movie is as honest as drama can get. And the movie only begins with the scene of the 9/11 victims calls. There is no mention of it at any other stage of the movie. And this is no “America is the bomb bro” kind of movie which Argo definitely was. There is a human element to the Arab who gets tortured in the first scene, the plight of the children who don’t known what’s happening and every other character in the movie. No one in the movie is shown in any negative light. If anything they are shown in the spotlight. And the movie ends with a scene which forces everyone to ask themselves if these ten years were worth it and of course what now.

    Comment by Aditya. K — February 17, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

  6. Tho I didn’t see the film I love bigelow and her courage

    Comment by R — February 19, 2013 @ 11:35 pm

  7. Mr. Eshan has a valid point that it is a engaging movie but totally political, i also believe that the us government funded this movie to make sure the world knows all muslims are terrorists even the innocent.


    Comment by Arjunpunj — February 20, 2013 @ 10:32 am

  8. This is an intense movie!

    Comment by Rangaswamy — February 22, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

  9. It’s a technically well made film, so I can understand where the appreciation is coming from. I think ZDT is way too overrated. I felt its a technical exercise and lacked the emotional wallop of The Hurt Locker. That last 30 minute footage was outstanding though 🙂

    Comment by Sreejith — May 2, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

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