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Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

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Score: 9/10

Genre: War Running Time: 2 hrs. 37 min.

Release Date: December 19th, 2012 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Kathryn Bigelow Actors: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Lauren Shaw, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini

T

hough predominantly intriguing and often outright thrilling, Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” still draws out many of its sequences to an unnecessary length. This makes the epic conclusion feel all the more satisfying for the tempestuous journey but also lessens some of the intensity. It’s either a steady build to a climactic finale, or a prolonged struggle to cover the entire decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain’s potent performance helps coax the former over the latter, as do the turns by several notable character actors; still, a tighter editing job couldn’t have hurt.

After the al-Qaeda attack on 9/11, CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) begins an exhaustive quest to locate terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Starting with information extracted from detainees at CIA black sites, Maya begins piecing together clues that eventually lead her to Abu Ahmed, bin Laden’s most trusted courier. As she inches closer to her primary target, Maya must contend with copious delays from the agency’s bureaucracy and the skepticism of her colleagues, as well as surmounting risks to her own personal safety.

Equal parts educational (what percentage of audiences are aware of the exact events that led up to the location of bin Laden?) and white-knuckle thrilling, “Zero Dark Thirty” is director Kathryn Bigelow’s most refined, expertly crafted film, easily trumping “The Hurt Locker,” which serves more as a character study than a suspiciously accurate interpretation and largely unbiased presentation of powerful, historical undertakings. It’s expectedly theatrical, likely embellishing intense operations for the sake of gusto – but it works remarkably. The last hour, jumpstarting with a slow flight over lightless Middle Eastern mountaintops, sensationally ramps up the anticipation of the storming of a compound with pulsing music, hesitant camaraderie-driven banter, and crafty cinematography. This impeccably orchestrated scene mirrors the raw, immodest ardor of the finale in “Apocalypse Now.”

Paced like last year’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (which to some will be a compliment and to others a disappointment), this shocker steadily expends information and clues to glue viewers to the screen, despite possessing a limelight outcome. Although nowhere near as confusing as the aforementioned mystery, “Zero Dark Thirty” oddly includes displayed titles for its chapter-like divisions, which are unnecessary and occasionally as cryptic as the title itself, which is never specifically defined in the context of the film. “Human Error,” “Tradecraft,” and “The Canaries” could misleadingly allude to codenamed locations or objectives; they are in fact just relevant monikers for briefly referenced happenings during each particular segment.

It isn’t enough to detract from a superbly edge-of-your-seat experience, however, perfectly riddled with unshielded and realistic violence, impartial exhibitions of torture (including undoubtedly controversial waterboarding) and intelligence gathering (such as the less visually caustic, grand-scale bribery), and an enthralling hunt for evidence. Perhaps it’s just the assumption that everything in the film is more genuine than the average “based on a true story” gimmick that truly helps the immediacy and excitement (“technically, these don’t exist,” claims an Area 51 officer, gesturing towards two stealth helicopters reminiscent of a Batman vehicle). Or maybe it’s just that “Zero Dark Thirty” is so utterly electrifying.

– The Massie Twins

 



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