For those who don't know, Zero Dark Thirty is the tale of how Osama Bin Laden (OBL) was found and killed. If only it were that easy to describe it.

While dealing with a real-life event of this magnitude, there is so much that can go wrong : you can end up making it look like a documentary / you could make it an action thriller / you can show everything as black-and-white with pious good guys and evil bad guys.


ZD30, directed by Kathyrn Bigelow, smartly avoids all that and still gives you a wonderfully engaging movie. The film follows the exploits of CIA analyst Maya ( Jessica Chastain ) as she tracks down lead after lead and interrogates suspect after suspect in her singular obsession with killing OBL following the events of 9/11. After a decade of failure at every level, when an old lead resurfaces, she finds she has even more trouble, both from foreign allies as well as her own, to convince them of her reasoning.


Like certain other movies like Zodiac, Watchmen, V for Vendetta etc, this movie will polarize it's viewers : you either come out loving it or hating it.
To me, ZD30 is one of the best examples of 'the thrill of the chase' genre of movies. The main headlining event of the movie (  the attack and death of OBL ) lasts about 30 minutes in a 150 minute movie. But long before the DEVGRU special forces' helicopters lift off from their base, I was ready to give my thumbs up review. Even though the major part of the first half is behind claustrophobic office doors or illegal prisons, you do not find yourself bored for even a second.

Right from the chilling portrayal of the event of 9/11 ( a blank screen with the victims phone recordings overlapping each other till all goes static ) to the amazingly stifling portrayal of Pakistan as we've never seen before on celluloid ( Was it shot in India? I am curious. ), director Kathyrn Bigelow is at her best.
It helps that she has hand-picked one of Hollywood's best up and coming talents in the wiry Jessica Chastain ( equally impressive earlier in 'The Help', 'Take Shelter' and due next in the Guillermo Del Toro horror thriller 'Mama' ). The character of Maya starts off appalled over the torture/humiliation meted out to the terrorists captured, but quickly learns the tricks of the trade as her obsession takes over.
You have many other actors ( James Gandolfini, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke ) with significant forms of support and resistance to the chase, but in the end, it is still Maya's doggedness that stands out as watches her friends retire, reassign themselves or get killed over the years.

You get to see a behind-the-scenes look at newspaper headlines that covered a decade, now told from a more coherent point of view. The camera is surprisingly unsympathetic to the Americans themselves, showcasing some debasing forms of torture ( waterboarding,  stripping the detainee in front of others, locking them inside small boxes ) while also handsomely bribing those who can be of use. Tracking a story from Saudi Arabia to Washington to Kuwait, Afghanistan and finally a nerve-wrecking final hour in Pakistan, credit must go to the writer Mark Boal for keeping the viewer engaged as the cat-and-mouse game progresses and lives are lost with each day the analysts fail to find OBL.
Even though you know how the raid will end, it is still mesmerising to watch it from a first hand point of view as it occurs. The attention to detail once we enter Abbottabad is simply amazing and based on all available reports of the actual site and event apparently.


Kathryn Bigelow won her first Oscar (defeating her ex-husband James Cameron's 'Avatar') for The Hurt Locker. Personally, I found this a lot more engaging and thought- provoking than that movie. The controversy of whether the movie glorifies the use of torture is a moot point to me : They are depicting events as they perceive to have occurred. There is nothing to be proud of in the act itself. The means maybe underhanded and illegal but they are deemed necessary to get what they want. There are no heroes in a war like this. To me, that sounds like real-life. Perhaps that is what hurt certain viewers.

On a final personal note, I found the Oscar nominations this year ridiculous. To even remotely suggest that there were 5 directors who did a better job than Kathryn Bigelow (and Hollywood's chocolate boy, Ben Affleck for Argo, now that I think of it) of portraying such a difficult, controversial script is simply silly. I can honestly say you will not get a more engaging, realistic and thought-provoking look into the events leading up to OBL's death than this movie.

Going by The Appletini review system, I'm giving this movie 5 out of 5.


22 Comments

Rachna said…
I haven't yet watched this movie. Sounds every bit as interesting as the storyline is. I wanted to read the book that has come out too. I, however, watched Argo and loved the movie!
Roshan R said…
Please do go for it when you get the chance.. Argo too was such a well taken movie.. if ZD30 embraces the darkness and human conflicts, Argo took a really tough reallife event and made it awesome... and both these directors were not selected for Oscar nominations.
I dont know what to say.
Mogamboo said…
Yeah this movie is in my to watch list... The last scens were in fact shot in India only...
Roshan R said…
Thanks Shyam... not just the last scene, there are quite a bit then shot in India and it shots really well. Not the way we portray an Asian country.
This comment has been removed by the author.
That makes this movie watch worthy ! Guess the jury at Oscars is biased as well ; they are humans too!
Nisha said…
It sounds extremely interesting. The movie hasn't released in Bahrain as yet, seems like we will have to download and watch.
Rohan said…
The movie is on my 'to-watch' list! But I don't think it is released in India as well. . Did the Oscar jury send you their copy?? And I thought of reading the book also. . I am back in reading mode!
amit said…
I am done with Agro and Les Miserables. Superb movies both.
I liked the premise of this movie and well and the director has proved herself earlier. So, there is no question that this will be a roller coaster ride.
I do not understand why we can't have 10 nominations for best director when we have 10 for best movie. Somehow doen't make sense.
Roshan R said…
I just felt they missed a few sure ones this time.. Argo and ZD30 were par excellence.
Roshan R said…
exactly the way I do it :D
Roshan R said…
any doubt Rohan.. I get the copy before the rest of the world.. I make sure there are no spelling mistakes in the credits before I send the movie back :D
Roshan R said…
This moves at a quicker pace than Hurt Locker, even though its set across a decade . And it doesnt stick to only OBl's death.. there are other events that occurred in between also portrayed here.
And yes, even I dont know why they cant just extend it in certain categories. Unlike some years, this year actually had some worthy contenders.. but still kicking out favourites like Argo and ZD30 seem silly to me.
Binu Thomas said…
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Binu Thomas said…
I was thinking of skipping this movie as I thought this would end up to be a documentary and praising the US government, thereby leading them to win the elections. And I was so wrong.. Now, I'll definitely watch it Roshan :)
Roshan R said…
none of that patriotic jingoism... if anything its the ferociousness of this one lady against both her own country and 'the allies'... I'm dumbfounded by how accurately they portrayed Pakistan... even we don't do that good a job.
Jay Singh said…
Hi Roshan,

We all know, how Oscars usually end up giving Oscars to some totally weird movies. Most of the times their decisions are questionable.
This does sound like a good movie, the style of narration and script run looks good.
I'll definitely give this film a watch. :)

P.S. Do check out my entry for Get Published.

Regards

Jay
My Blog | My Entry to Indiblogger Get Published
The Narcissist said…
Looks like an awesome movie. Lol I cannot understand what the Appletini review system is though.
Roshan R said…
Checked u entry and clicked.. all the best :D
Roshan R said…
haha.. thats just a basic 'out of 5' score using drinks instead of stars :D
Bhavana Nissima said…
I did not even know about this movie. I havent checked out whats on in ages--except that which is controversial and trends on twitter :( But your review is fascinating. I need to catch up and see this movie somehow.
Roshan R said…
it releases in theatres in Feb if Im not wrong.. I would definitely recommend it.