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Arts & Culture

Teen Critic: 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Jessica Chastain as CIA agent Maya in "Zero Dark Thirty."
Sony Pictures
Jessica Chastain as CIA agent Maya in "Zero Dark Thirty."

"Zero Dark Thirty" (currently playing throughout San Diego) has been stirring controversy. It also sparked the interest of my new Teen (okay pre-teen to be honest) Critic Robert Mackey. Mackey represents the next generation of filmgoers and that's why I want to allow him a chance to share his opinions. Here's his review.

Coming into the film I wasn’t sure what to make of "Zero Dark Thirty." Would it be an action film, using dramatic license throughout, or would it take a more journalistic approach, documenting the events up to and the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. I felt that the director, Kathryn Bigelow, did both, and did them in stellar fashion.

The movie is about a female CIA operative known as Maya (the director says that she is based off of several real-world CIA operatives) and her mission to find Osama Bin Laden. Along the way several of her fellow CIA officers are murdered, and the director does a good job of showing how this affects her character.


I felt that the film stayed true to the story and not only was I entertained and interested the whole way through, I also felt like I learned more about the manhunt. Another thing the film did well was it did a great job of spanning 10 years, and you can see the changes the world and the main character go through.

I have always been a fan of war and action movies, my favorite being "Saving Private Ryan," so violence is not a problem for me. But, for anyone who is squeamish at all, I feel compelled to give out a warning, the beginning of the film is focused on torture and there are some depictions of torture that are difficult to watch. Other than that, later in the film the only violence is the expected level of action violence, explosions, gunshots, and so on.

One critique I do have for the film is that an older CIA officer named Jessica and working with Maya doesn’t have a defined role. Throughout the film I had no idea if she was a friend, mother, sister, or had some other connection to Maya, other than that Jennifer Ehle does a great job as a supporting actress in the film playing Jessica but the unclarity bugged me throughout the entire film.

Another thing the film did great was keep up the suspense, and it doesn’t slow down at all. It was 0 to 60 for the entire two-and-a-half hours, and I thought that was one of the best characteristics of the movie. But another critique I had was that, although the main character, Maya, has a very defined character and role in the movie, I felt she didn’t have enough backstory. I knew nothing about her personally. Plus, she always felt like a stereotype to me -- a CIA officer recruited right out of high school, she’s done nothing but chase Osama Bin Laden, if she had more of a backstory, I think she would feel like less of a stereotype, and if she was less of a stereotype, I feel she wouldn’t need as much backstory because not being a stereotype would make her more interesting.

So, as my final verdict, I will say "Zero Dark Thirty" (rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language) is a must see for absolutely anyone. The only thing that should keep anyone from seeing this film would be if you felt you couldn’t handle the torture scenes. Whether you want to know more about the, until now, foggy events of this famous manhunt, or are just looking for a good spy drama/thriller, this is an amazing film.


Robert Mackey is a 12-year-old Teen Critic (okay pre-teen) for the KPBS blog Cinema Junkie. He loves media, specifically film and videogames, and hopes to work in the entertainment industry in the future.