Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
There's scene late in this movie 'Zero Dark Thirty' where our heroine Maya (Jessica Chastain) is surprised at lunch by the CIA Director (James Gandolfini) where she tells the director that she was primed right out of high school for entry into the CIA.  I gotta admit I was a little jealous when I heard that.  I mean why didn't the CIA prime me out of high school?  Admittedly my grades weren't all that high and my standardized test scores hovered around the 8th percentile, and my attention to detail is pretty poor and I do get bored real easy, but… and this is important… I look real good in a suit.  If that's not spy material I don't know what is.  And I don't think I'd have too much of a problem torturing people.  Uh… I mean interrogating them via our detainee program.  Regardless of all of that nonsense, you know we found Osama Bin Laden, 'Zero Dark Thirty' tells the story of how we got there.

The second the Twin Towers fell, the United States Government began the long, arduous and seemingly futile process of searching for Osama Bin Laden.  We join in the fray a couple years later with young field agent Maya as she has entered Afghanistan, and one of the very first things she is privileged to see is Agent Dan (Jason Clarke) torturing some dude.  Don't like watching people get tortured?  Watch another movie.  'Zero Dark Thirty' is like a respectable version of 'Saw'. 

So we hang out with Maya as she takes us into the back rooms of what she and her fellow agents are trying to do, sifting through loads of information mostly brought about via shaky intel, grainy spy photos, janky politics and information acquired through torture which can never be completely trusted.  While these hardworking people seem to be doing the they best can, particularly Maya who is becoming borderline obsessive about finding Bin Laden, to hear their boss George (Mark Strong) tell it, they are doing an awful job.   It is hard to argue with the man considering that the years are going by, the terror attacks are increasing across the globe, and Osama Bin Laden and most of his high ranking officials are still alive causing destruction.
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Then a couple of things happen to young Maya, one being she believes she has found the identity of Osama Bin Laden's main courier which she, and only she believes will lead them directly to Bin Laden, and she also suffers a personal tragedy, the blame of which she lays directly at the feet of Osama Bin Laden.  So where Maya might've been borderline obsessive before, she's now certifiably maniacally obsessive.

Maya might be about 5'4" and weigh 110lbs, but stay out of her way because she will run over you, go over your head, threaten you, bully you, browbeat you and curse you all to get to what she feels is the ultimate justice.  Eventually, thanks to the work of this mythical character, Osama Bin Laden will be found which will lead to, arguably, the best twenty five or thirty minutes of cinema you will ever want to see.

At the moment Kathryn Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty' is garnering universal acclaim, similar to her previous film 'The Hurt Locker' though both films are very different aside from the fact they are both centered around the art of war.  'The Hurt Locker' was a character study, but this one… not so much.  True enough Jessica Chastain's character of Maya dominates this movie, in fact her stellar performance almost overpowers this film with her raw dog grit and determination to finish her job, but the narrative doesn't give the audience much in the way of letting us know what drives her, or letting us on the inside of who this woman might be.  This isn't necessarily a problem because 'Zero Dark Thirty' isn't really that kind of movie, but I do think a little insight into what drives Maya, outside of the fact that the job needs to be done and Osama Bin Laden needs to be dead, wouldn't have hurt.

That aside what we do have with 'Zero Dark Thirty' is a tight, gripping thriller which effectively and meticulously takes us through the process that went into the tracking and eventual elimination of Osama Bin Laden.  It takes a minute to get accustomed to the language and methods that we are being shown as this isn't a primer on terrorist hunting and director Bigelow certainly isn't interested in easing us into the proceedings, but once you get accustomed to the style it does become absorbing.  For the most part.  'Zero Dark Thirty' does run just south of three hours and there are moments when it does feel as if it is getting a little caught up in the minutiae of it all… particularly a nice stretch from the moment Bin Laden's hideout is suspected to have been found leading to the eventual raid.  I imagine this was designed to build tension in addition to highlighting the slow movement of the government machine, but for me it resulted in impatience and frustration.  Which was what Maya was obviously feeling as well, so maybe that was the desired effect.

Then, of course, there's the eventual raid which was about as well shot, well choreographed and as well executed as a cinematic sequence can get, if you were to ask me.  And since you're reading this you are asking me, right?  It does put you there, it pulls no punches, it is somewhat disturbing and in some sense even sad.

'Zero Dark Thirty' is difficult to watch at times, but it is a drum tight, brutally efficient piece of cinema and a marvel of achievement for director Kathryn Bigelow. 
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