Zero Dark Thirty Review (Kirk Haviland)

ZDT banner

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez, Chris Pratt and James Gandolfini

Written by Mark Boal

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Returning to the big screen for the first time in four years, Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow goes back behind enemy lines to bring us Zero Dark Thirty. Zero Dark Thirty is the tale of the hunt and eventual termination of the world’s most wanted terrorist: Osama Bin Laden. The real question is can Kathryn Bigelow deliver a film based on the saga of the hunt for Bin Laden that is as gripping and thought provoking as The Hurt Locker?

Starting from the attacks of September 11 2001, exhibited here as only sounds over a pitch black screen, we follow the career of CIA operative Maya (Chastain) as she starts her decade long obsession into finding Osama Bin Laden. From bleak interrogation rooms in CIA black sites, Maya quickly learns under master interrogator Dan (Clarke) the extremes her fellow countrymen are willing to go to for leads and answers. Maya’s own obsession starts with trying to find the Abu Ahmed, allegedly one of Bin Laden’s most trusted men. The search continues for a decade, until an oversight is discovered that sets the movements in motion for the raid that ended Bin Laden’s life.

Zero Dark Thirty

As much as director Bigelow’s last theatrical film, 2008’s The Hurt Locker, was a mainly insular and ultimately star-making turn for Jeremy Renner, Zero Dark Thirty belongs utterly and completely to Jessica Chastain, and she is more than up to the task. We see her Maya go from a young, enthusiastic, hopeful lady to a hard-edged, worn and ferociously tenacious woman through the course of the film. The supporting cast, aside from strong turns from Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Ehle, are mainly background characters who help push the story along – this is Maya’s story. The only other actor given ample time is the impeccable Jason Clarke who is fantastic here. Clarke’s Dan becomes one of Maya’s most trusted allies in the fight for her desire to chase after Abu Ahmed when everyone else thinks she is chasing a ghost. The final scene with a imploding Maya as she realizes she has done nothing but chase this man for a decade and has forsaken everything else, including a place to actually call ‘home’ is pure cinematic brilliance in her performance.

Zero Dark Thirty

Boal has crafted another intelligent script that makes you feel like an insider, behind the walls where all the decisions are made. Bigelow has made a smart choice in going with mainly traditional camera and not all handheld like Hurt Locker was, which plays so much better considering the more epic scale of the story being told. Her framing works very well and the steady hand behind the camera keeps the story focused and on point with Maya, even when it does go off on tangents like Ehle’s character, Jessica’s meeting with a potential spy within Al Queda, it returns it focus back to Maya almost immediately. The film is hardly short with a running time slightly over 2 ½ hours, but the time flies by as the film itself is enveloping and never feels like it is taking too long to get anywhere. In fact its running time will likely be shocking by the end of the film. The careful recreating and crafting of the sets and locations lends another level of authenticity, the Bin Laden compound looks pitch perfect and the other compounds and black sites are painstakingly recreated.

Zero Dark Thirty

Never feeling like an over the top propaganda film, in fact Zero Dark Thirty is pleasantly devoid of a lot of those politics and shines a harsh light on some of the practices of US interrogators. Zero Dark Thirty is an enthralling account of the hunt for one man and the obsession of one woman. A more complete, grand scale and satisfying film than Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty stands to be Bigelow’s most accomplished and rewarding film to date. Zero Dark Thirty is a strong recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

Follow me directly on twitter @moviejunkieto and by liking my Facebook page at Movie Junkie TO

Email me at

Killing Them Softly Review (Dustin SanVido)

Killing Them Softly Poster

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Starring Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins

Directed by Andrew Dominik

Sitting in a car conversing with his go-between mob lawyer (Richard Jenkins), Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) takes a moment to explain his preference for murder: he dislikes doing it up close, as people become emotional, and sometimes try anything to talk their way out; he prefers to “kill them softly” from a distance. This is just one of the moments in Andrew Dominik’s latest that is oozing with analogical orgasms in nearly every scene and sequence. Killing Them Softly is a methodically paced, supremely acted, brutally violent and masterfully written neo-noir, and is a solid entry in the director’s furthering career.

Killing Them Softly 2

The story follows Cogan, a problem fixer for the mob who is called upon to investigate a robbery at a mob-controlled card game that has halted the influx of a key revenue stream. Those responsible must be found and dealt with accordingly, and that’s what Jackie Cogan specializes in. Like the film itself, Cogan is steely eyed, carries himself with a workman-like attitude and assured confidence, and is rife with cynicism. Beginning the story and coinciding with Cogan’s investigation that follows are the perpetrators of the robbery, who couldn’t be any more the polar opposite of our anti-hero. On one hand there’s Frankie (Scoot McNairy), a small time criminal who is looking for that one job that could propel him into realizing his delusions of grandeur. On the other, there’s Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), a drug addicted freelancer who’s just looking for enough work to further his career aspirations as a drug dealer. Supporting our variety of antagonists is washed out hit man Mickey (James Gandolfini), the manager of the card game Mark (Ray Liotta), a third accomplice to the robbery (Vincent Curatola), and the aforementioned mob lawyer (Richard Jenkins) who refers to his employers as a group of handicapped children who need to be walked through every little detail. How these characters come into the presence of one another and interact is the biggest joy of the film. Everyone involved brings their A-game to the table, even if their participation is somewhat brief, because it’s the briefest moments in Killing Them Softly that leave the biggest impact.

Killing Them Softly

It’s easy to say and ironic that this is Brad Pitt’s best film since Dominik’s last, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I’ve always enjoyed Pitt when he’s in manic crazy mode ala Tyler Durden in Fight Club or in Twelve Monkeys, but it seems his penchant for picking his roles very carefully and sparingly has made and kept me a fan. Ben Mendelsohn is a rising talent who has been on the up and up since his fantastic turn in the under seen Animal factory and I’ve never disliked any of his performances thus far. Considering he’s normally some type of scum bag, be it corporate or criminal, that takes serious talent. Scoot McNairy was introduced to the world in the similarly under-seen Monsters, and is on a similar rise. His character is a loser, but his fragility and teenage-like demeanour are sold perfectly and it’s fun to watch him interject self-depreciating humour into the situation and at characters he’s interacting with. Gandolfini, Liotta, Curatola, and Jenkins are all exactly what you’d expect them to be, slipping into the exact types of characters you’ve come to expect from these seasoned veterans of criminal drama, Jenkins being the standout.

Killing Them Softly at its core is a reflection of the United States, and specifically the recent economic collapse and government bailout. Whereas in Cogan’s Trade, the novel the film is based on took place in the 1970’s, Killing Them Softly takes place in an unspecified New York neighbourhood circa 2008, and makes a great effort throughout to let its viewers know what’s happening in this story is not unlike what happened to that country during the recession. Time is taken to interweave the narrative with televisions and radios airing speeches from the former President George Bush, and current President Barack Obama. Sometimes it’s blatant, and sometimes it’s just background noise. The similarity is never more clear than in the exceedingly satisfying ending, where Cogan’s cynicism towards life in America completely boils over due to the actions of another. At times I felt beaten over the head by this point, although I appreciate that Dominik respects his audience’s intelligence enough that he’s willing to throw so much subtext onto the screen.

Killing Them Softly 3

That being said, this is a film for people who love cinema, and for those who prefer a slow burn rather than a frantic action movie (the kind of film this was ironically marketed as). It’s unapologetic, brutal and beautiful to look at. There are no happy endings or stylistic tones found within that would appeal to a general audience. If you’re a fan and are familiar with Dominik’s writing and directing style, you are going to get exactly what you desire: a series of dialogue driven sequences sometimes punctuated by a moment or sequence of visceral bloody violence in the vein of his earlier work. If you walked in thinking you were getting a slick and well choreographed brainless gangster flick, then go watch Gangster Squad. Films like Killing them Softly prove that in today’s world of franchises, tent poles, and celebrity-vehicles, there is still quality-fare to be discovered and enjoyed.

Like Entertainment Maven on Facebook

Powered by

Up ↑