What It's About
An electrifying, dramatized true story about the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden, "Zero Dark Thirty" is a smart movie that cuts to the chase, and realistically presents all the stumbling blocks our government faced.
The first 15 minutes are tough to watch, but stay with it, and you will be riveted as they boldly chronicle the political upheaval from September 2001 to May 2011. We already know the conclusion, but it still packs a powerful punch -- an emotional wallop that summons up patriotism, relief and joy for all involved.
Jessica Chastain, heir apparent to Meryl Streep, is my frontrunner for Best Actress. As Maya, a CIA analyst who cracks the case, last year's Oscar nominee for "The Help" is fierce -- intense, passionate, combatative and determined. It's a stunning achievement as she slowly builds this character, setting her eye on the prize -- and growing in courage, one who will not let naysayers get in her way.
Mainly an ensemble piece, familiar character actors show up as suits and operatives -- Kyle Chandler, James Gandolfini, Mark Strong, Guy Pearce, and John Barrowman, among others. Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton are convincingly part of the Navy SEALS team.
Standing out are Jason Clarke ("Lawless") as a steely CIA specialist skilled at breaking terrorists and Jennifer Ehle ("Contagion") as a CIA team leader who befriends the loner Maya.
Compressing a difficult 10-year military hunt into 2 1/2 hours is a monumental task, and director Kathryn Bigelow and her go-to screenwriter Mark Boal are confident in their ability to take a complicated subject and strip it down to the essentials. They won Oscars for their last collaboration, "The Hurt Locker," and this is even more significant.
The Middle East is a complex culture that's not easy to figure out, and their grasp of the issues, and how well they tell this story is remarkable. They fearlessly delve into the war of terror, and don't dumb it down.
You can quibble with methods, and how ugly war is, but the filmmakers have created a masterpiece. It is arguably the best film of the year -- and its daring is the reason why, not to mention stellar craftsmanship. Bigelow's knack for action sequences is matched by her ability to bring out the humanity when it appears all is forsaken.
What Doesn't Work
The dogged attention to detail is noteworthy, but there is always a risk with such minutaie that minds can wonder, and it does have a tiny amount of tedium in the saggy middle part. Assured filmmaking, yes, but a wee bit of pruning could have helped focus attention at times -- and it's just a blip, really.
Overall, the result is thrilling -- an edge-of-your-seat recreation of the mission ultimately tops all, but the journey to that point is equally satisfying as it unfolds. Attention must be paid.
4 stars out of 4
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, James Gandolfini
Rated: R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language
Length: 2:37 min.