Release Date: January 11, 2013
Runtime: 157 minutes
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Jessica Chastain; Jason Clarke; Kyle Chandler; Jennifer Ehle; Chris Pratt
[POSSIBLE SPOILERS, I guess…]
The search for Osama Bin Laden took a really long time. While most of the American public wasn’t aware of the actual behind-the-scenes military machinations of what truly went into the search, “Zero Dark Thirty” attempts, and very much succeeds, in giving us an insider look into what is, undoubtedly, one of the most fevered manhunts of all time.
Even though we go into the movie knowing the eventual outcome, the film is structured as a military thriller, keeping us on the edge of out seats until the final Navy SEAL raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a young, green CIA operative who is dispatched to Pakistan to join the hunt for Bin Laden. The early sections of the film establish Maya’s strong will and determination, while at the same time setting up the ‘woman in a man’s world’ theme. She is young, she is pretty, she is dogmatic, and she’s playin’ with the boys. In fact, there is only one other female member of the team, Jessica (Jennifer Ehle). As the search intensifies, Maya uncovers the presence of one of Bin Laden’s trusted couriers, a lead which she follows for years, certain that it will point her to the man himself. She works and works the lead, much to the frustration of her superiors, who think that she should be concentrating more on potential future terrorist attacks. Of course, Maya is convinced her hunch will be justified, and….well, we all know what happens next.
The film moves at such a rapid clip, that, even tough we know the outcome, it is still a thrill ride getting there. Much of the credit, of course, goes to director Kathryn Bigelow. Boy, who knew that the director of “Point Break” (of all movies) would go on to become the first female recipient of the Academy Award for Best Director and the director of such esteemed films as “The Hurt Locker” and “K-19: The Widowmaker”? (Of course, I must say that one of Bigelow’s earlier movies, 1995’s “Strange Days,” was a nifty little treat.) But this film, while not easy to watch at times, as there are several scenes of graphic torture, is a directorial achievement. DP Greig Fraser shoots much of the film with a hand-held camera, which puts the audience in the desert with the characters, adding to the documentary feel of much of the film. The last forty minutes or so, the climactic sequence of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound, are breathtaking not only in their realism, but in their intensity. Look, I have no way of knowing how accurate the dramatizations in “Zero Dark Thirty” are, but they sure do make for a gripping piece of cinema.
Jessica Chastain is a more than capable lead and anchors the story with her characterization of a fiercely determined young woman, who never lets go of her belief that Bin Laden is just around the corner. She is the type of tough bitch who introduces herself to the head of the CIA as the “motherfucker” who found the compound. You do not bullshit this lady! Other characters are just as strong in their secondary roles, including Kyle Chandler as Maya’s boss, Jason Clarke as her fellow CIA operative and sorta-mentor, and James Gandolfini (yay!) as the head of the CIA.
Tech credits are top of the line throughout and the entire production is first-class. “Zero Dark Thirty” grabs you from the outset and doesn’t let go until the end, even though you know what’s coming. A real nail-biter (and I know a thing or two about nail biters)!!
*2013 Academy Award Nominations
Best Picture…..Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Megan Ellison
Best Actress…..Jessica Chastain
Best Original Screenplay…..Mark Boal
Best Editing…..William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor
Best Sound Editing…..Paul N.J. Ottosson