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Zero Dark Thirty Review Critics


Dave White Profile

Enhanced docudrama techniques. Read full review

Other Critics provided by

Critics scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more favorable reviews.

  • 5.0

    out of 100

    Universal acclaim
    based on a weighted average of all
    critic review scores.

  • 100

    out of 100

    Entertainment Weekly Owen Gleiberman

    Once in a long while, a fresh-from-the-headlines movie - like "All the President's Men" or "United 93" - fuses journalism, procedural high drama, and the oxygenated atmosphere of a thriller into a new version of history written with lightning. Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow's meticulous and electrifying re-creation of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, is that kind of movie.

    Read Full Review

  • 100

    out of 100

    Wall Street Journal Joe Morgenstern

    Judged solely as a film, a partially fictionalized account of the decade-long search for bin Laden, it's superbly crafted and relentlessly dramatic. More than that, though, Zero Dark Thirty is a shock to the system, one that's bound to incite discussion of profoundly troubling issues.

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  • 100

    out of 100

    The Hollywood Reporter Todd McCarthy

    The film's power steadily and relentlessly builds over its long course, to a point that is terrifically imposing and unshakable.

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  • 63

    out of 100

    USA Today Claudia Puig

    While this decade-long look at the inner workings of the CIA is intriguing, the movie would have benefited by more character development and additional editing.

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  • See all Zero Dark Thirty reviews at

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

Pause for kids 16 & under

Intelligent, uncompromising drama is violent and complex.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Zero Dark Thirty is a combination war movie, thriller, and docudrama about the intense, years-long hunt for Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks, from the filmmakers behind The Hurt Locker. Perhaps the movie's most controversial element is its depiction of "waterboarding" and torturing prisoners for information. The movie shows this process as simultaneously effective and repellent. Overall, violence is strong -- not just in the torture sequences, but also in various other gun/shooting sequences, with dead bodies and lots of blood. But because the violence encourages interpretation and isn't just gratuitous, older teens should be able to handle it within the movie's context as an intelligent, complex story that's sure to inspire passionate discussion. Language is strong, with uses of "f--k" and "s--t," as well as sexual innuendo and some partial, nonsexual nudity. Characters are often seen smoking cigarettes or drinking in a background way.

  • Families can talk about Zero Dark Thirty's violence. What's the impact of the torture scenes? How are they different from the climactic invasion sequence? From the opening depiction of 9/11? How does the movie challenge viewers to think about all these different forms of violence?
  • What keeps Maya doing this job -- hunting for little clues that may lead to Osama bin Laden -- for so many years? Is she a role model? Is she worth rooting for?
  • How can Zero Dark Thirty be labeled? How would you describe it to your friends? Is a movie that's difficult to label better than one that's easy to label?

The good stuff
  • message true0

    Messages: The movie's messages are complicated (all the better to inspire in-depth discussions among grown-ups and older teens). At particular issue is some of the violence -- i.e. the use of torture. The movie approaches these difficult topics thoughtfully, allowing viewers to interpret them for themselves.

  • rolemodels true2

    Role models: The main character is a tough, smart, persistent woman who spends years trying to achieve a nearly impossible goal and eventually accomplishes it. Yet that goal, and the methods she employs to achieve it, definitely dilute her heroism. But she's an enormously strong character with many shades of gray and well worth thinking about.

What to watch for
  • violence false4

    Violence: Several scenes of torture and severe interrogation techniques, including "waterboarding" and humiliation (a man's pants are stripped off). Also one or two intense battle sequences with guns, shooting, dead bodies, and blood. Bombs are set off, with injuries and casualties. Frequent tension/peril. The main female character is involved in -- and sometimes the victim of -- several violent situations.

  • sex false3

    Sex: Some male prisoners are stripped of their clothes, but nothing more than naked behinds are shown. One brief scene takes place in a nightclub with sexy dancing girls (not naked). A good deal of spoken sexual innuendo throughout.

  • language false4

    Language: Very strong and quite frequent. Words include "f--k" and "motherf---er," "s--t," "a--hole," "ass," "bitch," "damn," "hell," and "d--k," plus "goddamn" and "oh my God."

  • consumerism false1

    Consumerism: Coke and Budweiser brands are shown and/or mentioned.

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false2

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Characters both major and minor are often shown smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol (beer, wine, etc.) in a background way.