January 17, 2013

'Zero Dark Thirty' grim, detailed


---- — For a decade, Osama Bin Laden was the most wanted man on the planet. The ultimately successful attempts to apprehend him are brought to vivid life by director Kathryn Bigelow in “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Grim, detailed and sometimes hard to watch, the film gives a step-by-step telling of the CIA’s operation, and also gives the immensely talented Jessica Chastain a chance to shine once more.

Chastain picked up a much-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination for playing Maya, a freshly recruited agent at the start of the film who doggedly gives her every attention to the task at hand, even when leads dried up and the agency’s focus otherwise shifted.

Though we’re never given a hint of any life outside of her work, Maya’s character grows throughout the film, adding confidence, ferocity and obsession. She’s fascinating and admirable.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is complex morally — it doesn’t judge torture, it just presents torture as a matter of fact, primarily in the form of Dan, a smart and brutal interrogator portrayed capably by Aussie Jason Clarke.

The film is, at its heart, a procedural drama told not by frontline spies, but from the perspective of the information gatherers, sifting through mountains of data. We’re guided through the process — at times fascinating, at other times a bit tedious — and through the bureaucratic skirmishes in the hallways and boardrooms.

There are some familiar faces in the cast: Kyle Chandler as an unhelpful bureau chief; James Gandolfini as the CIA director; Harold Perrineau and Jennifer Ehle as Maya’s co-workers. Aside from Chastain’s lead, however, “Zero Dark Thirty” isn’t about the performances as much as it is about the dense script written by Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”).

There are stretches where the movie feels as long as it really is, but much of that will be forgotten over the final half-hour, when we’re pulled into a completely captivating dramatization of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound by SEAL Team Six.

“Zero Dark Thirty” may fall short of “must-see” status, but it’s definitely on the list of “should-see” movies.

Rental Recommendation: “Black Hawk Down” is another based-on-true military operation, albeit a less successful one. Grade: A-

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Zero Dark Thirty Grade: B+ Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle Rated: R (for strong violence including brutal, disturbing images, and for language) Running time: 157 minutes