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Generally favorable reviews- based on 836 Ratings

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  1. Sep 1, 2014
    A film that every American owes their country to see. A rare look into the complexities of the military and a one-of-a-kind mission. Zero Dark Thirty is the best film of 2012 and along with it a stunning performance from Jessica Chastain.
  2. May 4, 2014
    So, I realise I'm late to the party in regards to this film but better late than never, right?

    On the surface of it, you can be forgiven for automatically comparing Zero Dark Thirty to Bigelow's other 'war' film, The Hurt Locker; you could be forgiven but you would be entirely wrong! The two films are completely different yet both are equally compelling, just for contrasting reasons.

    The movie starts with audio only; calls between victims and the emergency services during the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. It's heartbreaking and horrifying without actually showing you anything. From here we jump two years and we are introduced to Jessica Chastain's character, Maya. Bigelow and writer, Mark Boal, give the audience a strong female character; a single minded woman who stops at nothing until she gets what she wants. Chastain's portrayal is a marvel; from her first 'interrogation' to the final moments, Maya's growth as a character, in strength and resolve, is utterly convincing. The only downside is that the audience never gets beneath the surface. Bigelow sacrifices who Maya is for what she does. However Jessica Chastain is so powerful in her role that the viewer will follow her story anyway without question.

    The death of Bin Laden is almost always told as the story of the brave men who stormed his compound, yet we don't get to meet this group until two hours into the film. This film isn't about these people, it's about what went on behind the scenes to allow such a mission to take place; the many layers of bureaucracy and years of research Maya and company endure just to get a meeting with the Director of the C.I.A (played by James Gandolfini).

    Some of the torture scenes make for uncomfortable viewing no matter what your opinion of it's usage. Bigelow pulls no punches in her direction and creates a visually beautiful film amid harsh environments. 
    The final half hour, the storming of Bin Laden's refuge which is shot almost in real time, is fascinating as the director switches between night vision goggles and the drab natural light of the compound, drawing the audience in and creating a tense final scene (despite the fact that we all know the ending of this story).
  3. Apr 18, 2014
    A really good true story that kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Acting was incredible, Jessica Chastain deserved the Oscar for best actress in my opinion for this role but didn't end up getting it. Still a greatly acted movie. It ran long but there were just the right amount of action and drama mixed in to keep you into it for the whole time.
  4. Jan 16, 2014
    Flawed but fantastic, Zero Dark Thirty is intense and has a keen eye for detail and a very complex central character, brilliantly acfted by Jessica Chastain.
  5. Dec 28, 2013
    Zero Dark Thirty is an incredible achievement, and in my mind candidate for best film made so far this decade. It has brought about an important debate, but more significantly it covers ten years of the war on terror in prime fashion. Chastain's Maya, a breathtaking performance of sheer will and determination, is one of the best of modern film acting male or female. Bigelow plays for high realism but she also knows how to create great drama by stretching but never breaking those confines. Every scene belongs for a purpose and never does it feel like one is missing; that in itself is an incredible achievement. Credit her direction, the cast, and the great script by Mark Boal. Expand
  6. Nov 17, 2013
    Zero Dark Thirty, for the most part, is riveting, engaging, and ultimately satisfying, as it accurately portrays the hunt for Bin Laden. Great acting by Chastain. What would've made it even better is further editing and further character development.
  7. Aug 29, 2013
    Incredibly gripping. The movie perfectly shows how hard can a job at CIA be. Its truly one of those true-story movies that are worth watching. It doesnt focus so much on action, but rather on interesting dialogue. Im dont usually like when people talk for the most part of the movie but Zero Dark Thirty just did it right.
  8. Jul 10, 2013
    "Zero Dark Thirty" lies between art and entertainment, realism and spectacle, effectively intertwining journalism and drama--resulting in a riveting film with provocative deliberations with reflection. As a cinematic experience, the film can be an undoubtedly punishing experience at times, given that U.S.-sanctioned torture figures prominently here, and has been flirting with controversy even before the film’s release. “Zero Dark Thirty” reunites the Oscar winning team of director-producer Kathryn Bigelow and writer/producer Mark Boal “The Hurt Locker” (2008) for the story of history's greatest manhunt for the world's most dangerous man.

    Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a CIA operative and her only objective is the unrelenting pursuit of leads to uncover the whereabouts of Al Qaeda's leader, Osama Bin Laden. Maya is a lone wolf-- a CIA agent who sticks to her convictions that bin Laden is not hiding out in caves in Afghanistan, but is likely living in relatively open sight. Based on true events, and from firsthand accounts by the CIA agents involved, the movie sets itself up very much like a docudrama. Characterization is passed over and the viewer forced to merely follow along procedurally with the characters; namely, Jessica Chastain's Maya. She is the anchor of the entire film, the one person you are given to carry you through the story, but if you are looking for a background on her you won’t find it here. There are no secondary storylines here, this is strictly how Maya and her colleagues working tirelessly and continuously to find Osama Bin Laden.

    We watch her evolution from that first torture scene, from a smart-suited observer and wet around the ears, to several years later into her tenure in Pakistan, where she now leads the interrogation and taps a strong-arm to do the punching for her.
    The movie turns into the ultimate procedural, in which computer work, matching photographs, and one seeming irrelevancy after another in an old interrogation video lead Maya to a man known as Abu Ahmed, who, at regular intervals, drives a white S.U.V. from Peshawar to a house in Abbottabad. It's takes an half an hour before we first hear a name we recognize, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, the trusted bin Laden courier who will eventually lead the CIA to their mark. Though at this point in the film, victory is still years away. Over the course of a decade, Maya finds promising leads that turn into dead ends, and then unpromising little tidbits that turn into even better leads. It’s imprecise work that requires meticulous attention to detail and not much of a private life.

    Progress is slow in "Zero Dark Thirty,” but the flow of information is fast and continuous, and the movie doesn't wait for you to catch up. There are more than 100 speaking parts--fellow analysts, CIA chiefs, national security advisers, and SEAL team members, many of them played by familiar faces. Characters enter for a scene or two, and just as quickly disappearing--sometimes before we have had a chance to register who they really are. Sometimes Bigelow don't even tell us the names, because she puts enough trust in the audience to assume we'll have a working knowledge of who the major players are. The coldness in tone changes drastically during the final act, when Bin Laden's compound is breached. Suddenly a wealth of emotions hits you, your gaze is unwavering, and the suspense is overwhelming. Even knowing how the story ends, it doesn't change the immense power of the final minutes.

    “Zero Dark Thirty” is a film that most Americans will no doubt embrace their patriotism enthusiastically, while others might have misgivings about the use of torture on detainees. But the film's depiction of such torture doesn't condone it; it's a record of it, as part of the narrative jigsaw drawn from those who were involved.
    Jessica Chastain delivers an Oscar worthy performance-powerfully and defiantly standing own her own, and never backing down despite years of exasperating obstacles. An absorbing richly textured portrayal of a dark, pivotal chapter in American history that forever changed our lives.
  9. Jun 20, 2013
    The best movie of the year, Zero Dark Thirty flawlessly builds up the tension until the grand finale. Bigelow's directing creates a film with grand scale while also paying attention to details. Former journalist Mark Boal once again writes an airtight screenplay that intelligently tells this important story. The raid scene was brilliantly done with no music behind the images and the night vision shooting, this helped me be immersed in the movie and feel like I was there. This film also has stirred up controversy and sparked heated debates, which is a feature of great movies most of the time. Great movies cause us to question our worldview, which is precisely what Zero Dark Thirty does. Expand
  10. May 25, 2013
    Precise, flawless and one of the best films of the 2012. The second consecutive masterpiece of Ms. Bigelow and Mr. Boal after "The Hurt Locker". It's a great achievement in directing, acting, script and editing.
    "Ms. Bigelow's direction here is unexpectedly stunning, at once bold and intimate: she has a genius for infusing even large-scale action set pieces with the human element."
    Manhola Dargis, The New York Times.
    "As a moral statement, Zero Dark Thirty is borderline fascistic. As a piece of cinema, it's phenomenally gripping an unholy masterwork." David Edelstein, New York Magazine (Vulture)
  11. May 21, 2013
    I thought this was one of the best films of the year. It was visually pleasing, had a great story line, had a great actress, and really informed you on what actually happened in the finding of Osama Bin Laden. Movies that make you feel emotion are good. This movie made me feel pissed about the people who did nothing. This is why it was a great movie. I gave it a 9/10 because it was not the best of the year. Expand
  12. Apr 27, 2013
    Zero Dark Thirty is a perfect film a movie that reflects America's patriotism and faith in a woman wanting to capture the most wanted man in the world dotod is a movie full of action drama and a magnificent Final voltage Jessica Chastain this spectacular
  13. Apr 26, 2013
    intense movie comes final conclusion of iraq freedom. this good movie can be slow but last 30 minutes of are epic. this movie is pretty good and story pretty good
  14. Apr 20, 2013
    Nice The movie was so nice and good. I love it.
  15. Apr 6, 2013
    Having now watched ZDT twice my appreciation has increased. It's really quite masterful as a work of film making, maybe the best of 2012. But it's not an easy film to watch for those expecting hyper action or in your face acting. Jessica Chastain was expertly cast as an obsessive agent who spent years trying to discover the whereabouts of UBL. While the torture scenes were tough to watch I never felt the film glorified it as a means of extracting info. The slow build up to the raid was perfectly timed. And even a second time around the final compound scenes were thrilling. No wonder it was bestowed with Oscar nominations. Expand
  16. Mar 24, 2013
    Very good. Picking ARGO over this film for Best of the Year is like picking a butter knife over a gleaming Bowie's blade: if all you want to do is spread butter, both will work, but don't insult our intellects by saying the butter knife is better in any way except it's SAFER.
  17. Mar 21, 2013
    Saw this movie for the first time just a couple of days ago. After hearing about it for so long, I expected a lot and it delivered. It's one of the best portrayals of the manhunt to find and kill OBL that I've seen. Not long ago, I saw a report on In Focus Martin Sheen about the SEAL museum and I gained a real respect for what these guys do... Zero Dark Thirty enhanced that even more.
  18. Mar 8, 2013
    Like Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln, Jessica Chastain was perfect in this film. I was 13 years old when September 11th happened, It was my first glimpse of hatred in this world. For many kids my age we felt our innocence taken away from us on that day. "Who would do such a thing to our country and why?" Was a thought i wrestled with for weeks. For me, Zero Dark Thirty was an insight into the situation that left many of us feeling helpless. The torture in this film brought some controversy to it, Is it saying torture helped? I don't think so. I think that part of the film was used to show the tenderness of Chastain's character. A strong woman living in a world dominated by violence and men. In the end, it was Chastain's never quite attitude and determination to find Americas number one enemy that prevailed. The Raid was very effective. I remember being so into it as if we were really watching OBL coming to his end. Powerful Film. Expand
  19. Mar 2, 2013
    A film 10 years in the making had better be good, a concept I held with John Carter, a film 100 years in the making. Unfortunately John Carter was horrendous and let down its literary background. Zero Dark Thirty doesn't have the luxury of being a fictional story or being a story so old its original fans grand kids are in their sixties. It pretty much had to be excellent, didn't it? The film follows CIA analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain) in her search for Osama Bin Laden following 9/11. The film spans a decade in the search through two administrations, torture, tragedy and heartbreak. The answer to that question by the way is unequivocally yes. Zero Dark Thirty is a taut clever thriller with a devastating lead performance by Chastain. The film not only follows the hunt for Bin Laden but it also tells the tale of a woman so hell bent on one goal that it slowly but surely breaks her down. It's not just a search for justice, justice found through dubious means for that matter, but a film that looks at the psychological toll a search like this can have on those conducting it. It's a movie I found myself very involved in, a film which makes you want to yell at the screen (you will know what scene) and a film that will leave you gratified but also a little bit fried, which I can only imagine was the point, for the viewer to feel like Maya. Screenwriter Mark Boal and Director Katheryn Bigelow have created a unique thriller that is extremely guarded and insular while never lacking in substance. The cast is excellent with Chastain giving a career high performance. However she is also supported by other actors bringing their A game from Jennifer Ehle to Jason Clarke. Ehle plays well opposite Chastain as a straight laced analyst whose nativity doesn't really suit her job. Clarke is the most interesting character in the film, a very closed off torturer who begins to tire of the constant brutality. The characters are beautifully written and equally well acted. The direction ensures the tension never really stops throughout the film and it keeps your interest throughout making for an exceptional viewing experience. A worthy follow up to The Hurt Locker and worthy of all the Oscar praise it is receiving. Expand
  20. Mar 1, 2013
    The only people offended by this movie would be those who were part of Al Quada and were greatly affected by the death of their comrade, Osama Bin Laden. I can't tell you how many times I fantasized about the main character in the film. But its overall a good movie but there is not much action its mostly storytelling until the last 20-30 mins. of the film. But its definitely worth a watch.
  21. Feb 18, 2013
    I've been complaining about the lack of the ultimate movie about the 9/11 for quite a long time. I don't complain anymore, the tragic event finally has its masterpiece.
  22. Feb 18, 2013
    Why are there bad reviews? THE MOVIE IS AWESOME, by far the best movie of 2012. It makes the Dark Knight Rises look like Garbage for little Kids.
  23. Feb 16, 2013
    Zero dark thirty was a great experience for me, I really liked Joel's acting in the film. Even though the film is about the greatest manhunt in history which some people will thing is boring) the film has good pace, it picks up fast and it's a thriller documentary which leaves you hanging. From the exotic places to the nutty warfares, Zero Dark Thirty is a 10/10 movie for me.
  24. Feb 16, 2013
    Zero Dark Thirty is one of those rarer than rare films that challenges its audience while entertaining it. While thrilling in its execution the assault on bin Laden's compound is unforgettably suspenseful and exciting it's disturbing in its depiction of "harsh interrogation", and demands of us that we answer: we tortured to get our enemy; does justice prime morality? Was it worth it? Must hail Jessica Chastain, who deserves the Oscar in a very strong field. A brilliant and unique film. Expand
  25. Feb 13, 2013
    Gritty stuff. Facts aside, you couldn't pen a script that seethes as much as the true story behind the hunt for Bin Laden. Weaved together are historical boiling points from around the globe that lead to the climactic crescendo of how the went down. The frame of the puzzle is laid in the first half of the film, then as the connections are made the tension builds to whistle-boiling intensity as the final act begins. You don't need to be an American to realise the impact of the actions contained in the storyline, the direction from Bigelow and the admirable tenacity given over by Chastain grab your attention and build the wholly thrilling journey to an applaud worthy crescendo. Movie of the year! Expand
  26. Feb 10, 2013
    I really am having trouble understanding the lack of love for this film. I tend to be on the same wavelength when there's such a discrepancy between critical and public opinion of a film or game, but I'm baffled this time. The acting is quite solid. Apart from a convincing performance from Jason Clarke as an alternately brutal and casual CIA agent and an unbelievably affecting and believable performance from Reda Kateb as captive/torture-victim Ammar, I don't think that anyone deserved any awards because there have been several tour de force films recently released that can't be ignored, but I wouldn't criticise any of the performances of any of the actors at all.

    For the most part I found the story compelling and tense. We can debate the accuracy of the plot until the cows come home, but at the end of the day there are few that can conclusively say what did and what didn't happen. At any rate, I wasn't watching this under the pretence that it was the gospel according to Kathryn Bigelow, I was watching it because I wanted to see an action/thriller about a series of pivotal events that I happen to have been alive for. Yes there are parts where dramatic license is apparent, but find me a film where that isn't the case. All that aside, from what I've read, the final assault on the compound is portrayed very very closely to how it actually went down, which is a detail that I greatly appreciated.

    But at the end of the day, the thing that really makes this movie shine is the direction. Finding a single man in Pakistan is like finding a needle in a haystack, especially if he doesn't wish to be found. Bigelow managed to make 5 years of exactly this into a rather tense experience. From innocuous conversations interrupted by terrorist bombings, to the fevered search for a single man on a cell-phone amongst a market full of men on cell-phones, to the is-he-or-isn't-he-a-threat suspicion of every contact they meet, the film is handled with great talent. I'm not intending to be sexist, but it's not often you see a female director take hold of such a film and pull it off in such a mature and deft way. And lastly, the final assault on the compound is filmed in realistic darkness and completely without music. The scene lasts almost exactly as long as the real-life event, and there are some striking and chilling shots of soldiers befitted with night vision skulking in the darkness. To repeat myself, I can't understand the discrepancies between public and critical opinion this time round, and I think that this film deserves much more respect that it's getting.
  27. Feb 3, 2013
    Great CIA movie with a few amazing action scenes. The fact that it actually happened makes it even more worthwhile! I'd recommend it to anyone and everyone!
  28. Feb 3, 2013
    One of the best films I have seen for a while. Although running time is long, I was engaged throughout and wanted to see more. Kathryn Bigelow provides a gripping account of the events between 9/11 and Bin Laden being killed which proves to be a fascinating story. Jessica Chastain puts in a brilliant performance, although I didn't expect anything less. Top stuff.
  29. Feb 1, 2013
    The best performance of the year (Jessica Chastain) in the best movie of the year. The narrative in the beginning is, however, sort of stiff. But in this case, it is actually in favor of the movie, catching the frustration and length of the hunt for bin laden. And I thing Kathryn Bigalow does a great job by not judging the torture scenes, leaving the viewer to decide on his own whether this is justified. The final scene is just terrifically staged, a haunting sequence, even as we know the outcome. A must see. Expand
  30. BKM
    Jan 30, 2013
    Zero Dark Thirty spans 10 years and two presidential administrations in its depiction of the hunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. Naturally there's a lot of material to cover and a single viewing probably can't put everything into the proper perspective. Still, Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Marc Boal keep things moving along at a fluid pace and the tension is never less than palpable despite the fact that we know how it's going to end. Jessica Chastain is superb as the agent who devotes herself unfailingly to the elimination of bin Laden, only to be left with the realization that the price may have been her own humanity. Expand

Universal acclaim - based on 46 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 44 out of 46
  2. Negative: 0 out of 46
  1. Reviewed by: Stephanie Zacharek
    Feb 27, 2013
    Zero Dark Thirty is precise, definitive filmmaking, yet Bigelow refuses to hand over easy answers. Some people call that evasion. I call it the ultimate despair.
  2. Reviewed by: Kim Newman
    Jan 21, 2013
    Gripping throughout, with an impressive central performance, this is like a Dogme 95 redo of a Chuck Norris film - by heroic effort, the good guys find and kill a bad guy. How you feel about that is something Bigelow leaves you to decide.
  3. Reviewed by: Kimberley Jones
    Jan 16, 2013
    It's a mistake to confuse Zero Dark Thirty for "truth" – that would be a disservice to the high level of craftsmanship, from first-billed actors to below-the-line production crew, at work in this movie fiction – but there is admirably little fat on its bones.