Movie review: Zero Dark Thirty 

****1/2
click to enlarge Zero-Dark-Thirty_15.jpg

Zero Dark Thirty is a hell of a movie. The procedural about the hunt for Osama bin Laden is easily one of the best films of 2012. You'll need to make a bathroom stop before entering the theater - the production is 2 hours and 37 minutes, but director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, who previously teamed up on The Hurt Locker, keep the proceedings moving at a quick pace.

I caught myself leaning forward and sitting on the edge of my seat repeatedly throughout the movie. Knowing the fate of bin Laden doesn't dissipate any energy because the story isn't about him, it's about the mission, embodied by one incredibly determined woman. Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a fresh-out-of-school CIA agent assigned to the case.

A friend and colleague of mine disagrees with me about Maya. He believes the film's weak point is its lack of fully developed characters, including Chastain's Maya. I found Maya riveting - she is an individual who defines herself by her mission, one mission that begins on September 11, 2001 and concludes on May 2, 2011. Her focus never wavers, even when the attention of the nation, including - amazingly - the CIA, drifts away from the bin Laden search. At times it appears that her drive, her obsession with the case is the only thing keeping it going. Chastain does an excellent job making Maya a credible human being and not simply a representation of die-hard bin Laden-focused CIA agents.

Depending on who is doing the talking, Maya is either a composite of several individuals or a portrait of one deep-cover agent. Bigelow was drawn to the story when she heard a woman was a key figure in the CIA investigation. The story originally focused on an earlier point in the decade-long case, but was quickly refocused when President Obama appeared on TV to announce the death of bin Laden.

Controversy has dogged the production. There were accusations that the film was being designed as election year propaganda for the president (it isn't, and even if it had been, it wasn't released until after the election). The CIA was accused of violating national security by allowing the filmmakers access to classified information (dunno about that one). Currently, some are outraged over the movie's depiction of torture, including waterboarding, claiming it makes it look like torture was successfully used to secure vital information on the case.

I can't speak to that. I was so disturbed by the torture that I paid no attention to what the prisoner was saying. I understand that torture has been established as an unreliable tool for gathering information, since victims will say anything to make the pain stop. I reckon, however, that part of "saying anything" might include stating factual information. Understand, I am in no way trying to justify torture. I'm just thinking as I type. My suggestion is that you remind yourself that the film is a work of fiction based on fact, not a documentary.

What else to tell you? While Chastain is the central figure in this accounting of the bin Laden mission, there are many other respected actors in the film, including Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), Harold Perineau (Lost), Joel Edgerton (Warrior), Sopranos star James Gandolfini and a fit and trim Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation). You also should know that the film's gripping action scenes are presented in a realistic fashion, with nary a hint of Michael Bay-style summer movie bombast. Zero Dark Thirty plays fair with its presentation of a fascinating investigation. At least it appears to play fair well enough to have convinced me.

Trailer


Zero Dark Thirty
Rated R · 157 min. · 2013
Official Site: www.zerodarkthirty-movie.com/site
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Producer: Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Megan Ellison, Colin Wilson, Greg Shapiro and Ted Schipper
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler and Edgar Ramirez

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What others are saying (14)

East Bay Express Zero Dark Thirty Somebody had to do it. So she did. by Kelly Vance 01/02/2013
Indy Week Kathyrn Bigelow's unflinching Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden Zero Dark Thirty opens and closes with acts of cold-blooded violence, the righteousness of which is left to the conscience of the beholder. by Neil Morris 01/09/2013
Charleston City Paper Zero Dark Thirty deepens the moral complexity of finding Bin Laden A lot of generally intelligent people have said a lot of dumb things about Zero Dark Thirty, all likely with the best of intentions. Some have argued that it glorifies torture by showing how "enhanced interrogation methods" did in fact lead to key intelligence in the eventual mission to find and kill Osama bin Laden. Others have argued the exact opposite: that it clearly indicates torture failed as an intelligence-gathering technique. by Scott Renshaw 01/09/2013
11 more reviews...
Memphis Flyer Zero Dark Thirty Director Kathryn Bigelow’s grave, contentious hunt-for-Bin-Laden portrait is a must-see movie. by Chris Herrington 01/10/2013
Boise Weekly Hollywood's Deadly Dance Django Unchained, Gangster Squad and Zero Dark Thirty are all now playing in Boise. by George Prentice 01/09/2013
Creative Loafing Charlotte Zero Dark Thirty an assault on the senses Rating: ***1/2 by Matt Brunson 01/11/2013
Arkansas Times The torture debate 'Zero Dark Thirty' presents it as dehumanizing, but necessary. by Sam Eifling 01/16/2013
Boise Weekly Zero is a Hero but The Hobbit is Token Tolkien Zero Dark Thirty opens Friday, January 11. The Hobbit is now playing practically everywhere. by George Prentice 12/19/2012
Style Weekly Movie Review: "Zero Dark Thirty" This torturous thriller is an extraordinary rendition of history. by Wayne Melton 01/08/2013
The Coast Halifax Zero Dark Thirty Complicated, fast-paced and nuanced by Molly Segal 01/10/2013
Tucson Weekly Efficiently Epic 'Zero Dark Thirty' is an unsettling, provocative and engaging film by Bob Grimm 01/10/2013
Portland Mercury Where's Osama? Zero Dark Thirty: Like Where's Waldo? but with Osama Bin Laden! by Erik Henriksen 01/09/2013
Colorado Springs Independent Incendiary introspection: Zero Dark Thirty A lot of generally intelligent people have said a lot of dumb things about Zero Dark Thirty, all likely with the best of intentions. by Scott Renshaw 01/09/2013

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