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Zero Dark Thirty: A sub-par Hollywood cliche hiding behind the badge of being “based on true events.”

by Nicolai on January 13, 2013

Review of: Zero Dark Thirty

Reviewed by:
On January 13, 2013
Last modified:January 13, 2013


Zero Dark Thirty presents us with 160 minutes of shallow, unlikable characters, traversing the contrived, implausible Hollywood spin on an emotionally charged subject—a subject that just happens to be capable of drawing patriotic American blood from a Communist potato.

One day, Not-A-Good-Movie strolled into a costume shop and flipped through the racks looking for something to wear. There, nestled in between The-Vietnam-War and The-Holocaust, it found a cute little number that fit perfectly—9/11. At the checkout register, Not-A-Good-Movie stumbled on the pièce de résistance for its new costume—a golden plastic badge imprinted with the words BASED ON TRUE EVENTS—and it was even on sale. So Not-A-Good-Movie slipped into the 9/11-Movie costume, pinned on its TRUE-EVENTS plastic badge, whipped open the door to the costume shop, and stepped out onto Critical Avenue, where all the cars honked and their drivers cheered at the sight of a 9/11-Movie-Based-On-True-Events. Not-A-Good-Movie smiled and waved and skipped off in full masquerade.

 First, to the ruse—which I admire and admonish from behind the wheel of my psychedelic 1968 Chevy Van, where the windows don’t roll down and the horn only works when I thrust all my weight into it. It’s from this vantage point I notice that True-9/11-Movie is wearing bright orange Crocs that clearly clash with the rest of its ensemble. Now where have I see those Crocs before? It’s coming to me. Ah, yes, Not-A-Good-Movie wears shoes just like that all the time! And as meddling kids are prone to do, I was about to rip off the costume and reveal the imposter’s true identity when I saw the badge. ZOINKS! Trouble ahead, gang! But never fear, I will do just about anything for a Scooby-Snack.

 I’ll just have to be extra careful about pointing out how the brutal torture in Zero Dark Thirty looked more like a gym-class depantsing with an inside-out version of the old “ask a guy a question, dunk his head in the bathtub, rinse, and repeat,” because water-boarding is a true event you know—seriously. I have to tread lightly because 9/11 is charged with emotion, and there’s a debate about the ethics of using torture to gain crucial evidence, and it was nominated for Oscars, and… Ah, screw it.

 Zero Dark Thirty is not a good movie, and here’s why:

 The main character, Maya, is a 2-D cardboard cutout of the typical Hollywood female protagonist. She is a pretty, young, awesome-at-her-job, “girl,” tossed into a story bleeding bull-headed testosterone to the quiet snickers of “she’s just a girl.” And how do all movies with Maya clones end? You got it, with a big fat “I told you so.”

 Maya’s character is a fearless, friendless, humorless, sexless, emotionless CIA agent hell-bent on catching the 9/11-masterminding, American-killing, real-life, Islamic extremist symbolizing the abstract concept of “terror,” which the most powerful country on earth has been at war with for a decade. Maya is a machine that’s been on an “I’m 100% certain,” mission for ten years. She’s kind of like the Terminator—except the Terminator is likeable—and an actual character—and, thank the gods, Maya won’t “be back.”

 The director must have known Maya wasn’t likeable because she somehow made room in the nearly three hour movie dramatizing a three minute event for a humanizing scene at a cafe that went a little something like this:

 JESSICA (the not-as-young, not-as-pretty, not-as-awesome-at-her-job, woman that was snubbed by Maya): Hey, Maya, did you bang your boss yet?

 MAYA: No! I work with him.

 JESSICA: You really should let loose and have some fun.

 MAYA: Mmmhmmm. [SIPS WINE]

 JESSICA: Do you have a boyfriend?

 MAYA: Uh…

 JESSICA: Any friends at all?


 <DIRECTOR’S NOTE: God, just blow up the damned cafe!>


So the director gave up on helping viewers relate to the protagonist. Happens all the time. At least she gave us one salty little tear in the last scene, one droplet of human emotion showing some sort of life-changing growth, right? Nope. It’s a drop of oil leaking from a robot that has served its purpose and doesn’t know what’s next. Maya is not a character. Or is she? The movie’s BASED ON TRUE EVENTS after all. Real-life Maya, if you’re really out there, I’m sorry—I know being a cyborg sucks.

I’ve been safe so far because I know Maya’s a falsie. Now to tread on ground I haven’t swept for mines. So I apologize in advance to anyone out there that may have actually lived through the possibly-true scenes I’m about to mock—actually taking part in a conveniently implausible, completely cliche, Hollywoodized event must be excruciating.

  1. “Ok everyone. This guy claims he’s a mole and he sent this video of himself talking to bad guys to prove it. I think he’s legit, so let’s gather all our top guys and stand by our headquarters tent to greet him. Now we don’t want to spook him so let’s tell all the guards to turn their backs and open the twenty gates so two unknown Arabic men can drive their dusty, oddly low-riding, Ford Festiva right up to our doorstep.”
  2. A random soldier shouts, “Hey! There’s no reason I should know this but I’m pretty sure this guy’s not supposed to have a limp! He’s got a limp guys! Guns up! We have to have a moment of tension and then horrible realization because us just getting blown up out of the blue is–” BOOM
  3. A high-ranking desk-jockey at the CIA walks into an open hangar in Area 51 and addresses a bunch of commandos. “Men, you’re probably wondering why a high-ranking desk-jockey from the CIA came down here to talk to you. Well, I’ve been watching a lot of CSI and I like how those guys are always hands-on and in the thick of it. So I came down to introduce you to the person who’ll brief you. She’s a girl.” Commandos huff and roll their eyes. “Maya, you brief’em while I go make sure the rotor-nuts are tight on these choppers over here.”
  4. The guard on sentry duty waves to Maya as she gets in her car. “Let me just buzz you out there, Maya. Now, I know my job is to guard you and watch the gate and stuff. And I probably should be telling you about the two creepy guys in the green Mercedes parked right outside the gate here for the last hour, but…”
  5. “Okay SEALS, let’s move in fast and silent. And let’s blow all the doors open with C4—I love the little shot of adrenaline I get when I’m watching a scary movie and there are sudden loud noises covering for the fact there’s nothing really scary in the movie. So go ahe–” BANG. BANG, BANG. BANG.
  6. “Honey, I think I heard a noise.” A Pakistani woman shakes her unresponsive husband. “There it is again. And Again! It’s like loud explosions or something. You need to check it out honey.” The husband mumbles and rolls over. “Crap! Honey! That sounded almost as if an experimental military helicopter crash landed right outside our door! Please check it out.” Begrudgingly the husband rolls out of bed, pulls on his slippers, and flips on the light. “Alright, woman! If it’ll make you happy. Now where’s my cricket bat…”
  7. The likeable American torturer (he’s American and a torturer—he doesn’t torture Americans—I think) coos at his caged monkeys and feeds them bits of his snowcone then, later that day… “Maya! They killed my monkeys! Why? Why, oh why did I even have those monkeys? Why did I feed them my tasty frozen treat? And now they’re killed! My purposeless monkeys, that were probably just a bumbling attempt to symbolize torture, are killed, Maya!” Torturer cries then looks up. “Oh, and Maya, I’ll see you in a few years when I’m inexplicably invited to a high-level CIA meeting just so I can ‘softly’ shoot down your ideas for no apparent reason. You should have banged me, Maya.”
  8. “So, where do ya want to go lady?” Long introspective moment. “Uh, lady? I asked you where you’re headed…” Long introspective tear rolls down Maya’s face. “Listen, lady, you got me standing here just looking at you and we ain’t going nowhere till you say where and, frankly, it’s getting a little uncomfortable. You know, kind of like when you’re at a cafe and someone asks if you have any friends and you don’t say nothing and then


Zero Dark Thirty presents us with 160 minutes of shallow, unlikable characters, traversing the contrived, implausible Hollywood spin on an emotionally charged subject—a subject that just happens to be capable of drawing patriotic American blood from a Communist potato. That 9/11-Movie is protected by the badge of being based on true events. It’s exempt from criticism because viewers think they are watching an unusually action-packed documentary. We can’t see the film’s flaws because we are blinded by that cheap plastic badge. If only we had something that could nullify the power of that badge—a wet rag maybe. A monkey could toss the rag over that badge and then I could rush in, yank the costume off, and reveal to the world that Zero Dark Thirty, the 9/11-Movie-Based-On-True-Events, is actually that crotchety old Not-A-Good-Movie looking to pull a fast one. If I could do that then maybe spending the last three hours writing yet another review for a movie I didn’t like would be worth it.

Good thing I have a monkey. Now where’s my damn Scooby-Snack?


Zero Dark Thirty presents us with 160 minutes of shallow, unlikable characters, traversing the contrived, implausible Hollywood spin on an emotionally charged subject—a subject that just happens to be capable of drawing patriotic American blood from a Communist potato.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicolai January 14, 2013 at 4:23 am

Jinkies! The Hollywood Foreign Press fooled by Made-in-China gold paint? Best Dramatic Actress awards for portraying characterless characters? Looks like we’ve got a mystery on our hands. To the Mystery Machine!


Tom March 25, 2013 at 12:13 am

Tough to enjoy or even watch a movie that revolves around such an unlikable main character. I turned it off after she talked down to the Navy Seals. The accolades for her performance confuse me too. The character was a pretty bland straight line without much range one way or the other. It worries me that most of the population didn’t see these things.


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