'Zero Dark Thirty': What Do Critics Think of the Picture's Pursuit of Osama Bin Laden?

The Reviews Are In
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Director Kathryn Bigelow follows up her award-winning master-class in tension The Hurt Locker with Zero Dark Thirty, an unapologetically factual depiction of the hunt for Osama bin Laden.  Originally conceived as a literal exercise in futility – the film was all but completed when President Obama surprised the world with the news of Bin Laden’s death – Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal reworked and expanded their film into a portrait of dogged determination (if not utter obsession) in the face of ever dwindling odds.

But does Bigelow’s decidedly cold presentation of one woman’s decade-long manhunt succeed in its matter-of-factness or stumble in its refusal to evoke emotion?

Scott Mendelson, Huffington Post

“Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty is a refreshing 'just the facts' procedural drama that maintains an almost allergic aversion to melodrama.  The film is ice-cold throughout, maintaining an even-keeled approach to the decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, pausing only occasionally to acknowledge the aftermath of violence.”

Peter Debruge, Variety

“The result is neither particularly entertaining nor especially artful, as the filmmakers take a lean, All the President's Men-style approach to dramatizing an investigation that took nearly a decade to bear fruit…The script's blood runs thick with observational detail and military jargon, skipping forward years at a time between scenes to focus on one of two types of incident.”

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

“Kathryn Bigelow's and Mark Boal's heavily researched successor to Oscar winner The Hurt Locker will be tough for some viewers to take, not only for its early scenes of torture, including waterboarding, but due to its denial of conventional emotionalism and non-gung ho approach to cathartic revenge-taking. Films touching on 9/11, such as United 93, World Trade Center and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, have proved commercially toxic, and while this one has a ‘happy’ ending, its rigorous, unsparing approach will inspire genuine enthusiasm among the serious, hardcore film crowd more than with the wider public.”

Eric Kohn, IndieWire

"Zero Dark Thirty tracks a full range of emotions associated with the proverbial war on terror, from the naivete of its earliest stirrings to the spirit of vengeance that gave its apparent victory such a vital quality in the Western world. At the same time, the movie questions the certitude of the transition from despair to triumph, enabling Zero Dark Thirty to realize the power of its immediacy while giving the proceedings a lasting value.”

Jordan Hoffman, ScreenCrush

The Hurt Locker was something of a master class in tension exercise, and one of the most well-paced movies ever made. Zero Dark Thirty, while certainly loaded with suspense, doesn’t have the precise and narrow focus needed for this sort of emotional workout. It’s a needle in a haystack picture and, as such, needs to be a little all over the place.”

Drew McWeeny, HitFix

“I can't tell you for sure that the film has anything to do with the unvarnished truth, but I can tell you that this feels accurate.  It has an integrity to it that is bracing and adult, and it manages to deliver a major visceral experience without ever once bending to Hollywood convention.  This is a film that knows exactly what it's doing, and does it without compromise.”

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