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Zero Dark Thirty Review

December 21, 2012 | Posted by Shawn S. Lealos
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Zero Dark Thirty Review  

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal
Cinematography by Greig Fraser
Music Composed by Alexandre Desplat

Jessica Chastain … Maya
Jason Clarke … Dan
Reda Kateb … Ammar
Kyle Chandler … Joseph Bradley
Jennifer Ehle … Jessica
Harold Perrineau … Jack
Jeremy Strong … Thomas
J.J. Kandel … J.J.
Scott Adkins … John
Mark Strong … George
Mark Duplass … Steve
James Gandolfini … C.I.A. Director
Jeff Mash … Deputy Director of C.I.A.
Joel Edgerton … Patrick – Squadron Team Leader
Chris Pratt … Justin – DEVGRU
Frank Grillo … Squadron Commanding Officer

Runtime: 157 min
MPAA: Rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language
Official Website

The best movie of 2012, with very few contenders coming close, is Kathryn Bigelow’s story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Zero Dark Thirty is the time of day that the crack SEAL team busted into the complex where Bin Laden was hiding out. However, in this movie the killing of Bin Laden is only part of the story. The real meat and bones is the ten year search for the man who orchestrated the murder of almost 3,000 people on 9/11.

What is interesting about this movie is that right wing and left wing proponents can both watch it and leave with two different opinions about the story. I have heard people say that it glorifies the torture that American soldiers used when trying to squeeze the truth out of captured terrorists. I heard some people say that it damns the torture of prisoners by the Americans and demonizes the soldiers attempting to find the truth.

Both sides are right, and that is what happens when a movie dares to tell a story without an actual political agenda. What is funny is that people will even disagree with that statement. To say that the movie will remain a polarizing and controversial topic for argumentative political minded individuals is an understatement. I am neither right nor left, preferring to develop my own belief system, regardless of what a political party tells me. As someone with no agenda, this movie was a harrowing watch for me, and one that really shook me from the start.

The film starts with a black screen, the only sound being the people in the World Trade Center crying for help. The first 20 minutes or so of the film after that takes us inside a small room where the American soldiers are holding a prisoner. This was one of the money men that helped fund the attack on 9/11, and the CIA enforcer water boards the man, walks him around with a dog collar, locks him in a small box and makes him sit in piles of his own feces. During this entire sequence, Bigelow forces the audience to watch the horror this man is put through, and it is impossible not to feel a little sorry for him, despite his horrific crimes.

The character we immediately step into the shoes of is Maya, portrayed by the amazing Jessica Chastain. In 2011, Chastain starred seven movies and picked up an Oscar nomination for The Help. Here, she turned in a performance that was simply astonishing and anything less than a Best Actress win would be a crime. She turned in not only the best female performance of 2012, but one of the best in a very long time.

In this role, she plays a very strong willed and determined CIA officer based on the real operative who made it the sole purpose in her life to track down Osama Bin Laden. Over time, her superiors say that finding Bin Laden not a big deal anymore, yet she refuses to let it go. From this first scene, we are with her as she watches in horror at the techniques used to get information from the prisoner. Unfortunately, no matter how much they push him, they get no information.

The soldiers also know they are running out of time because new U.S. President Barack Obama has promised that American soldiers will not torture prisoners anymore. These CIA officials know that any terrorists they capture after the word comes down that they must clean up their act will lawyer up and they will never get any information out of them. To these men, without the ability to beat the information out of their prisoners, they will hit a brick wall and the terrorists will continue to kill without any way for the CIA to stop them.

This is the dangerous slope that the movie walks, showing the necessity of torture to get information. However, Maya is a smart person. When they can’t get the terrorist to talk, another terrorist attack takes place, killing innocents in England. She uses trickery and suckers the prisoner into spilling the information they need to get a lead on the location of Bin Laden. This is where the movie plays fair, showing that torture remains necessary in some cases, but not all the time. There are other ways.

We then follow Maya as she tries to locate Osama Bin Laden. The movie surrounds Chastain with so many great actors, and she shines among some of the best in Hollywood. With supporting roles from names like Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, James Gandolfini, Mark Duplass, Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt, she is a rock among stars.

Another standout is Jason Clarke as the CIA enforcer. Through the beginning, he comes across as a real ass, but over time he softens, especially when dealing with Maya. It looks like he might be a real bad guy, with the way he seems to relish torture, but Bigelow makes him a real human and it shows as he grows weary of the situation and wants to do something humane. He finally breaks down and returns to D.C., figuring a desk job beats water boarding people. This could be a breakout role for Clarke, who was fantastic in his character’s development.

However, the real hero here is Kathryn Bigelow. The pacing of this film is strange, but it is deliberate. The audience feels the pain as Maya works tirelessly to discover the truth, hitting roadblock after roadblock. It speeds up and slows down, showing the determination she has to reach the conclusion. Finally, when the time comes to send in the attack on Bin Laden, the camera work and timing is a work of art. While everyone knows how this story ends, the tension is still nerve wracking. The only movie that comes close this year is Ben Affleck’s conclusion to Argo.

The telling scene comes at the end, as Maya sits alone in a plane. A pilot asks her where she wants to go now and she only stares ahead as the tears start to flow. When you put ten years of your life into a mission, what do you do when you complete it? This movie, from start to finish, puts you in Maya’s shoes and Bigelow made sure that you feel the same as Maya by the end. What did this mission in the film accomplish and what is next? It’s a question you will ask yourself for days after leaving the theater.

It is rare that a movie makes you really think about a serious topic. What Kathryn Bigelow accomplished here will make you do just that. Bigelow impressed with Hurt Locker, but she mastered her profession with Zero Dark Thirty, the best movie of 2012.

The 411: While Argo looked like the front runner heading into Oscar season, Kathryn Bigelow raced to the front of the line with her amazing look at the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. There will be controversy surrounding the movie, and some people won't enjoy it because of political convictions. However, as a movie, this is the best film of 2012, with the best director of the year and the best performance by an actress by Jessica Chastain. You are looking at the new front runner for the Oscars.
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Final Score:  10.0   [ Virtually Perfect ]  legend

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Shawn S. Lealos

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