Zero Dark Thirty; lives mostly in dark (ALERT: Spoiler)

Zero Dark Thirty is an over long docudrama that neither excites you nor recreates the magic of Kathryn’s last film; The Hurt Locker. To be honest, it’s only the last 30 minutes which creates the same kind of excitement that was there in The Hurt Locker. Moreover the film lacks continuity and detailing to a great extent.

I would be honest with you, when last year director Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscars for The Hurt Locker, I was a bit surprised considering the kind of films that hit the silver screens that year. But this year, Kathryn Bigelow is back with another thriller based on actuals; Zero Dark Thirty. Honestly, I liked The Hurt Locker as an interesting approach to narrate a non-fiction. Looking at the trailer of Zero Dark Thirty I thought the film to be a bold, provocative and challenging but it was a roller-coaster rider for me.


From the very first scenes, Kathryn Bigelow demonstrates her niche as a docudrama filmmaker. Starting with an opening sequence that consists of a blank screen and an audio track of the anguished 911 calls of people caught in the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, Bigelow cuts unceremoniously to a squalid prison two years later, where a CIA official is mercilessly torturing a detainee.

It’s this harrowing scene; during which an Al-Qaeda associate is waterboarded (And I am happy that she showed this side of the story as this is bound to raise some eyebrows in US). Having profoundly evoked the tone of fear and loss that pervades and contextualizes all that comes after, within a few scant minutes Bigelow signals that she will not turn away from the most unsavory aspects of the history she’s chronicling and that she will lead viewers through a gnarly, complicated story with authority, flinty composure, keen storytelling instincts and unmatched technical chops.

Our guide in the film is a CIA analyst named Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young agency recruit who arrives in Pakistan relatively green but whose obsession with tracking down Bin Laden eventually takes on the contours of a holy mission.

Maya, played by Chastain with impressive resolve, becomes known for mouthing off to her superiors, especially her station chief in Islamabad (played by Kyle Chandler). At many moments Jessica Chastain was reminding me of Vidya Balan from Kahaani; only because both the stories were driven by women as the main protagonist/hero of the film.

It happens that Maya’s character coincides closely with a real-life CIA operative who was deeply involved in the search for bin Laden. But she plays an important structural role in the film, not just as the audience’s surrogate through a labyrinthine collection of facts, figures, locations and characters, but as the personification of the intelligence and military personnel who, through dint of perseverance and determination, finally got their man.

But I have to say that the biggest drawback is its story telling, it never able to raise the sense of excitement like The Hurt Locker. The story is abrupt and lacks continuity. I always believe that when you are the director of a film, you need to have an eye for detailing, which lacks a lot when it comes to showing the streets or market places of Rawalpindi and Abbottabad (Well, you don’t see TATA trucks and Maruti Suzuki Desires in Pakistan, do you?).

Apart from this, the film is also lengthy in its narrative and at times you do get distract from it. Procedural repetition becomes the name of the game from that point on until the actual Seal Team 6 raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, which comes across as one of the year’s murkiest sequences. It’s not clear what was happening and who did what to whom. The story gets exciting only in the last 30minutes when they finally figure out courier of Bin Laden.

For me, Zero Dark Thirty raises more questions than it answers about an important historic event. It’s very dragging and rarely hits you up with excitement.


Ratings:  * * (& half) /5

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