Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



Oscar Predictions

This is still a work in progress as I migrate from my old platform at Tumblr. For now, you can still access the whole backlog of posts there at

Zero Dark Thirty

Film #197


A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May, 2011.

Year 1, Day 194

BEFORE: What a big day today is. That’s right: Academy Award nominations. I’ll be posting my predictions in the next few weeks but for now, I need to catch up on some of the nominees. And to do that, I’m going to a screening of the Best Picture and Actress (among others) nominee Zero Dark Thirty. Ever since this mission took place and Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal (the team behind The Hurt Locker - great film and previous Best Picture winner) signed on to direct and write, this film has had a place on my must see list. Now to see if it was worth the hype and nominations.

AFTER: Zero Dark Thirty feels very much like a companion piece to Bigelow and Boal’s previous film, The Hurt Locker. Both take place during the wars in the Middle East and both films take a more human-based approach to the story rather than an action-based approach. While I wouldn’t say Zero Dark Thirty missed any of the main mission objectives, it did miss some of the optional ones.

This film is about the hunt for, and killing of Osama bin Laden. It’s an attempt to tell the story of the ten year search for such an elusive man and more importantly the things we did to find him (read: torture). Going into the film I wouldn’t say I was familiar with the story. I was aware that a Navy S.E.A.L. team stormed a compound in Afghanistan and killed bin Laden in 2011, and tracing him down through his courier sounds familiar, but other than that, I didn’t really know much about what happened. So it was a surprise to that events like the London bombings, an attempted bombing in Times Square, and the Marriott Hotel bombing were all related to al-Qaeda and the CIA’s search. In this way Zero Dark Thirty was wildly successful because it brought all these pieces of the story together for the first time (for me anyway).

Where the telling of the story wasn’t so good was in the language. In this area I would say I’m much more knowledgeable having seen many films in which the military or other government organizations play a big role. But in Zero Dark Thirty, especially the beginning when you first hear all these Arab names and the CIA officers are using a bunch of jargon related to the torturing and processing of information. In many parts the writing was phenomenal with some of the dialogue being particularly witty yet serious. But there were also many parts where without the visuals, I would have been completely lost. At times it seemed like watching a foreign language film without subtitles (ok, that’s probably a bit exaggerated). Even in that scenario though, you can still figure out what is going on using visual clues until you get to a point where you understand what the people are saying. Then the writing helps make sense of everything you just saw and reinforces things.

One last area I would like to cover is with regards to Jessica Chastain’s nominated performance of CIA operative Maya. I had heard a lot of Oscar buzz for her leading up to her nomination this morning and prior to watching this film tonight. I must say I was skeptical as her character didn’t look all that impressive from the trailers. And for the first ten minutes or so I wasn’t really seeing what all the hype was about. But after a while, Maya’s character really began to take shape and emerge as this very strong and determined woman who stands up to, and in many ways better, the men running this search. Chastain does a brilliant job portraying this and really nails her number one trait: confidence. She believes strongly in her theories and leads and isn’t afraid of saying so and without this assertiveness, there’s a good chance the search could still be ongoing.

If you’re thinking a film about the death of Osama bin Laden is going to be an action film, you’d be wrong. Sure, there are a lot of explosions and gunfire in the final scenes (spoilers: they find bin Laden) but Zero Dark Thirty is much more than that. It focuses on the people behind the search much like The Hurt Locker focuses on the people behind the life-threatening job of diffusing bombs. However, the much more jargon-heavy, information-based style of Zero Dark Thirty makes it slightly less accessible and harder to understand the nitty-gritty of a well-known story. Very entertaining to watch and deserving of the Best Picture nomination, but I don’t think it will be winning, especially with some great competition.

Zero Dark Thirty expands to a nationwide release tomorrow (after beginning a limited release on December 19, 2012).

RATING: 4 out of 5