‘Zero Dark Thirty’ captivating and a powerful story

Movie Review
By: By Frank Miller Special to The News Messenger
-A +A


“Zero Dark Thirty”

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow 

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke and Chris Pratt

Rating: Five out of five stars

The manhunt for Osama bin Laden lasted a decade and culminated in the terrorist’s death at the hands of a Navy S.E.A.L. team in Pakistan.

“Zero Dark Thirty” tells the story of the people behind the scenes in the CIA who tracked Bin Laden’s breadcrumbs to locate where he was hiding in the first place.

The focus of the film is on Maya (Jessica Chastain), at first a neophyte analyst who was involuntarily assigned to the case. She becomes obsessed with tracking Bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Maya’s first exposure to this world comes from observing prisoners being tortured for information.

There is a lot of ink being wasted about how this film glorifies torture. It doesn’t glorify it as Maya is clearly put off by it but the movie does reflect that it happened and was sometimes effective.

It would have been glorified if the filmmakers showed the process as essential and necessary.

That’s not the case here.

In fact, some of the information gleaned from these torture sessions proved incomplete or resulted in dead-ends.

Focusing only on this aspect is also a major disservice to the film.

“Zero Dark Thirty” celebrates the work-ethic and determination of the people who won’t get credit for the end result. These are the people who dedicated their lives to the cause and sacrificed everything for the greater good.

At one point, another character asks Maya if she has been on a date or even has any friends. A revelation is that Maya clearly hadn’t assigned that much thought.

Chastain exudes a steely determination in the role and never resorts to broad theatrics to show her character’s resolve. It’s a beautifully understated performance that is surely one of the best of the year.

The same can be said of “Zero Dark Thirty” as a whole. It’s a suspenseful and unflinching modern classic that is simultaneously daring, captivating and a master class in storytelling.


Frank Miller is a Sacramento writer.