Zero Dark Thirty Review
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In 2010, director Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director for her simple but gripping war drama, The Hurt Locker. After her win, she began planning her next film: a real-life drama about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. When the terrorist leader was killed in 2011, the project obviously became even more intriguing—but while Zero Dark Thirty is definitely timely, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Bigelow deserves back-to-back Oscars.

In 2003, young CIA field agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) arrives in Pakistan, eager to get to work on her all-important mission: tracking down al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. She soon finds that it’s a painstaking process—one that requires patience, persistence, cunning, and a strong stomach.

As more and more of her colleagues end up either dead or burnt out, Maya carries on, patiently following the chain of intelligence that she believes will eventually lead her to the reclusive terrorist.

When, after years of searching, she’s convinced that she’s finally found him, another waiting game begins as she has to convince everyone else—and get them to act.

Zero Dark Thirty is like a modern-day companion piece to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Much of the film revolves around the minutiae of the process: the wheeling, the dealing, the conniving, and even the torturing. For the most part, it’s a lengthy series of meetings and interrogations that seem to take the investigation one step forward before taking it two steps back. The fact that the film explores a piece of not-so-distant history makes it fascinating. After all, who wouldn’t want a look inside the top-secret mission that finally brought down the world’s most wanted man? Still, it isn’t nearly as compelling as its 19th-century counterpart—because it doesn’t have the same heart.

One might expect a film made by a female director to be a little more emotional than most—but that’s not the case here. After all, Bigelow doesn’t make the kind of movies that one would expect from a female director. And while she may put a female character at the center of her latest dramatic thriller, that doesn’t mean that there’s anything even slightly feminine about the movie or its main character. Chastain’s Maya is an admirable character whose dedication and determination are inspiring. And the fact that she’s treated like just another field agent—instead of being treated like a female field agent—is refreshing. But while she’s treated like any other field agent, she’s also written like any other field agent. She’s given no background, no story, and no real personality to speak of. The only thing that we know about her after nearly three hours is that her commitment to her job is unwavering. Really, she could just as well be a robot.

Meanwhile, her actions—and her words—often feel unnatural. In fact, one of the film’s most memorable lines is memorable because it’s so totally awkward—a line that no woman I’ve ever met (especially not a professional woman) would think to utter.

Then, as soon as S.E.A.L. Team 6 is called in, Maya all but disappears. It seems as though, when screenwriter Mark Boal went in to make the post-bin-Laden edits, he got so caught up in the mission itself that he all but forgot about his main character. And, as a result, Zero Dark Thirty feels like two very different movies: one long, drawn-out drama about the process and the planning followed by one booming thriller about the eventual takedown.

From a historical standpoint, Zero Dark Thirty is an intriguing film. Bigelow and Boal definitely went to great lengths to tell the whole story. While the result is a carefully-researched and painstakingly-detailed film, though, it’s also cold and distant and uneven. So while it’s still worth a look, it’s far from an Oscar-worthy follow-up.

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