Zero Dark Thirty comes from director Kathryn Bigelow, whose previous film The Hurt Locker may have won many accolades but I did not like it very much (reviewed briefly here). I'm sorry to say I liked this film even less.
It's really a matter of character. I don't mean to say these characters do not show development. (They don't.) I mean they don't show character AT ALL. The main character, please, someone tell me one thing about her that I did not know before the movie began. Who is she? Where did she come from? Why is she obsessed with killing Bin Laden?
The movie also has tremendous pacing problems. The opening 30 minutes of the movie show extensive torture sequences in an attempt to gain information. The whole movie covers more than a decade of time, and it is really jumpy in its pacing. I really think the opening is a red herring. The movie is not at all about torture, even though all of the recent publicity has been about Senators complaining that it glorifies torture, followed by the CIA's bizarre backpedaling in which they admitted that there was torture but that it did not directly result in the capture of Bin Laden. All of this overreaction is the result of what could have been a five minute scene of torture.
Then there is the believability of the main character. When I asked my wife the actresses' name when she appeared at the beginning of the movie, I swear she said "Jessica Shit Stain." Obviously I misheard Jessica Chastain, who was so good in The Help (reviewed briefly here). I can't blame her for not having a character to play here, she certainly does her best to bring the film above the lackluster script. But her character seems to have an endless supply of hair-care products and makeup even though she is in a war zone for (apparently) a decade, and that haircut would never last there. Watching the great documentary The Invisible War (review here) a few days before this didn't help. Comparing her to real women who had spent time in a war zone, she is nothing like them.
The final 30 minutes of the movie are the best, and it is essentially a completely different movie, which could have been entitled "Killing Bin Laden." Let's face it, how do you screw up that part of the movie? This was the easy part, and it's the only interesting part. Note that the characters are all new, are never introduced, and never given any character. But we all want to see UBL die, so we get excited.
Strangely, after the success of Hurt Locker, you would except a decent budget on this film, but it looked and sounded like a low budget film even though the reputed budget was $20-40M. Parts of the movie are so dark I could not see what was going on, including much of the final 30 minutes. Helicopter footage looked like it might have been CGI, perhaps deliberately underexposed to hide the phoniness? The end result is that it looks like a student film trying to pull off day for night.
I have loved every score Alexandre Despat had written, until I heard this one. There is very little music until the final sequence, but then suddenly we are hammered over the head with full melodrama, sounding much like it had been temped with Hans Zimmer.
The middle 90 minutes or so of the movie are the worst part. There is a recurring image of Chastian writing the number of days on the glass wall of her boss's office. I felt like this was happening in real time. (Also, if she wanted her boss to read it, she should have written the numbers backwards; would have been a nicer visual image to see his POV with the number written over her face. But I digress.) This whole movie is a mess.
I'm afraid I can't recommend this film.