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Trailer Critic: Zero Dark Thirty

Jessica Chastain in the latest Zero Dark Thirty trailer

The bewildering first trailer for Osama bin Laden manhunt movie Zero Dark Thirty, from the Hurt Locker team of director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, was all about obfuscation. Just about every face in sight was obscured with pixilation, shadows, and black marker. It meant to convey the secretive nature of its subject matter, promising to complicate “The Story You Think You Know,” but instead it conveyed almost nothing at all. It was called a “teaser,” and it really did feel like a tease. We couldn’t even make out the faces of the actors.


This, on the other hand, is how you make a trailer. The first manhunter we meet is played by actor Jason Clarke—fresh off his Prohibition gangster beat in Public Enemies and Lawless—who swiftly and understatedly reminds us just how deadly effective elite forces can be. He also shows that such deadliness comes at a price: Clarke is interrogating a prisoner, and seems to be threatening torture. From there we see the quietly determined faces (actual unpixilated faces!) of the rest of the team: Intelligence offers played by Jessica Chastain and Mark Strong, SEALs played by Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt, and a more ambiguous figure played by the great Edgar Ramirez (Carlos). No cast like that should be hidden.


Some have accused Zero Dark Thirty of rolling out this fall in order to highlight one of Obama’s biggest victories in advance of the election. (The movie will now be released in December, but critics still point to its fall marketing.) This trailer does focus in on the level of uncertainty that was felt over whether to go ahead with the final mission. But that uncertainty plays out here among a small, isolated group of individuals—the movie appears to focus on the boots on the ground, not the decisions from up above. The timing of the film’s release is surely an attempt to court a different kind of voter: Those who elect Oscar winners.

Whether Bigelow and Boal can weave all this together into compelling drama remains an open question. There are some striking images here—women in burqas toting AK-47s, a mysterious transaction in a Lamborghini dealership, a dusty explosion straight out of The Hurt Locker—but it’s unclear what role each of these scenes will play. About the final shot, though, seen from the night-vision POV of a Seal Team 6 helmet, there is little question: It’s chilling.

Previously from the Trailer Critic
The Lone Ranger
Life of Pi
Red Dawn
Oz: The Great and Powerful
Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
The Great Gatsby
James Bond in Skyfall