MRR Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty


Movie Review: "Zero Dark Thirty"

-- Rating: R
Length: 157 minutes
Release date: January 11, 2012
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Genre: Drama / History / Thriller

The first mistake that people may make while watching "Zero Dark Thirty" is to forget that it is a fictional film and not a documentary. Although the movie is based on events that took place between September 11, 2001 and May 2, 2011, people who go to the film looking for factual, live depictions of the hunt for Osama bin Laden will be greatly disappointed. Nonetheless, film lovers-especially action film fans-will find "Zero Dark Thirty" more than satisfying. Director Kathryn Bigelow's skilled filmmaking elevates the narrative to the ranks of a classic military action/thriller.

Bigelow sets up the story in the opening scenes with haunting references to the 9-11 attacks: the acts that fueled the search for bin Laden. She uses the attacks to justify the obsession with which lead character CIA analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain) and her colleagues hunt bin Laden. Bigelow also includes torture scenes within the prison, as CIA agents interrogate a detainee to get information on bin Laden's whereabouts. These first minutes of "Zero Dark Thirty" warn audiences that "Zero Dark Thirty" will not shy away from dirty details.

Chastain plays a young analyst who is thrust into the search for bin Laden and eventually becomes almost obsessed with it as her crafty foe dodges her every move. As she travels from the Middle East to Washington and back, Maya is dogged by the sheer frustration involved in finding this one man. Chastain plays the rookie attitude well at the beginning, and later shows Maya's skill in doing everything possible to get the job done.

The film also follows the lucky breaks and hard work of everyone involved in helping Maya reach her goal. However, Maya's obsession and sheer determination are often the driving force in keeping the attention of the powers that be on this project. At times, Maya takes on the role of David standing against the Goliath that is the American military and the CIA.

It won't matter to "Zero Dark Thirty" audiences that they already know the end of this tale. The film focuses on inner workings of the operation that the public did not learn about in the news leading up to May 2, 2011-the day when bin Laden was killed. The film takes that liberty of putting faces to the deeds and the work leading up to that final mission, adding a thrilling excitement to the search.

Bigelow preserves the suspense when needed by making this story a highly personal one. Fortunately, Chastain is not portrayed as yet another psychologically flawed CIA analyst-a role that Hollywood has perfected over the years. Instead, Maya's contribution is in her reliance on an instinct that the powers that be can't be bothered with. The audience will root for Maya when her gut feelings and research are finally vindicated.

Although the story in "Zero Dark Thirty" is derived from interviews with CIA and military officials, the movie is not an exact portrayal of events. Scriptwriter Mark Boal used the personal stories as a jumping-off point for his dramatization of an event that will go down in American history. Boals' script provides an inside look at the harrowing events that led to bin Laden's capture, but in a way that may not be as historically accurate as politicians would like to believe. Audiences should not let the attempts to politicize what is likely the best action film of the year influence their decision of whether or not to see "Zero Dark Thirty" in theaters. There are times in the film when Maya's CIA colleagues remind her of the politics surrounding the hunt for bin Laden. These warnings seem to hint at a similar caution that audiences should have when watching the film.

Once strapped into the seat, however, a true movie fan will forget the politics surrounding the film and the actions it depicts. From the haunting opening scenes to the CIA base bombing in Khost, Afghanistan and even the black cat crossing the path of the men embarking on that fateful mission, "Zero Dark Thirty" successfully immerses audience members in the action and drowns out everything else. Bigelow's filming and Boals' script capture viewers' attention and don't let it go until the ending credits.

The 9-11 attacks and the killing of bin Laden years later are both events in American history that will continue to shape politics and lives. "Zero Dark Thirty" is destined to join that history as an entertaining homage to the events. The suspense, thrills, and dramatic moments in the film will continue to enthrall audiences well into the future.

Rated 4 out of 5