Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt
Plot: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May 2011.

Genre: Drama/History/Thriller
Awards: Won 1 Oscar - Best Sound Editing. Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Leading Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing.
Runtime: 157min
Rating: NC16 for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language.




“When you lie to me, I hurt you.”

Zero Dark Thirty is first and foremost a riveting picture, a class act of bravura filmmaking with incredible dramatic intensity. Written by Mark Boal based on first-hand accounts of the intelligence work that eventually led to Osama bin Laden's inevitable demise, Zero Dark Thirty is a strong follow-up to The Hurt Locker (2009), both directed by Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow.

She is unfortunately snubbed of a Best Director Oscar nomination this year, but her work here speaks volumes of her ability to deliver an accomplished film that is also one of the most tense of the year.

Jessica Chastain plays Maya, the intelligence officer whose decade-long work in finding the whereabouts of the world's most wanted terrorist finally pays off with a combination of luck and sheer perseverance. Chastain's performance may earn her an Oscar, as she embodies her character with a kind of confident swagger so rarely found in female roles.

Bigelow and Chastain has made a film that is as masculine as it gets, yet at the same time retaining some of the more emotional moments that a male director and actor pairing would have been unlikely to create with such tenderness.

Much has been debated over the film's torture scenes, which I personally found to be uncomfortable to watch. Some have spoken denying torture ever took place, but the truth of the matter is that the use of torture to extract information is quite apparent to anyone with the right sense of mind how real-world intelligence works. Perhaps the more relevant question to ask is whether torture was ultimately instrumental in finding bin Laden.

The first half of the film works like an investigative procedural, hence it is dense with information and jargon. Impatient viewers will find it frustrating, but curious folks like myself will find it intriguing. However, I do admit the film suffers from some pacing issues in the first hour. Running at nearly 160 minutes, Zero Dark Thirty finally gets more interesting when intelligence work leads to a compound in Pakistan believed to be sheltering bin Laden.

That's when the film picks up in terms of suspense and dramatic momentum, culminating in a tour de force climax that sees a team of Navy Seals raiding the compound. The sequence with the stealth choppers flying across the mountainous region in darkness towards their enemy offers one of the great moments of cinema, underscored brilliantly by an ominous, low-key brassy rhythm by Alexandre Desplat.

Verdict: The film overcomes a very info-dense first half with an extremely riveting and tense second half.

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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