Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The last time director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal teamed up they created a little film called “The Hurt Locker,” a movie that went on to not only win the Best Picture Academy Award but Oscars for both Boal and Bigelow, making her the first women in history to win the directing Oscar. Pretty hard act to follow I’d say. But the duo pull it off with the gripping story about the hunt and capture of Osama bin Laden, “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Tuesday, September 11, 2001. A day that will forever change not only the United States but the world. We are reminded of the horrors of that day and then are transported to a military installation on the other side of the world. There, a local man is being interrogated by Dan (Clarke) one of America’s best at what he does. “If you lie to me…I hurt you.” This sentence is repeated over and over. And it best be heeded. If not, things can get a little rough. Enter Maya (Chastain), a CIA operative who has been sent along to help in the capture of bin Laden (often referred to as UBL). Maya seems a little squeamish at some of Dan’s techniques but doesn’t question them. The search for freedom isn’t always pretty.
A thrilling piece of filmmaking that takes a little too long to get into gear, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a film that is going to inspire debate for years to come. Named after soldier jargon for the middle of the night (though when I was in the Army we called it “O-dark-30), “Zero Dark Thirty” is neither a whiny apology for torture nor a flag waving chant of “U.S.A….U.S.A.” It’s actually a film about perseverance and sticking to your guns. Maya, who faces an uphill battle daily as a woman in a perceived “mans” environment, must constantly fight to have her opinions heard. Chastain is excellent here. She gives Maya the innocence that is the audience…seeing things on screen for the first time. Maya flinches when a prisoner is water boarded but she also understands that some things are necessary. But when strength is needed Chastain summons it. As she sits in on a top level meeting where bin Laden’s compound is being discussed she is pointed out to C.I.A. director Leon Panetta (James Gandolfini) who questions why she is in the room. “I’m the mother-f***** that found this place, sir,” she replies. Like Chastain the cast is strong, especially Clarke and Kyle Chandler, who plays one of her superiors.
The script and direction are straight forward but the film drags in its first hour, as the audience is given a lengthy introduction to the events that lead up to the staging of the raid on bin Laden’s compound. But once there, the action reflected back to the audience courtesy of night vision goggles, the heart-rate begins to ramp up. The last 45 minutes will have you on the edge of your seat as a group of Navy Seals infiltrate the compound, knowing that the slightest mistake will put them at the mercy of the nearby townspeople. A former journalist, Boal surely has an ear for “soldier-speak.” He also has a sense of humor. When told that the man the C.I.A. is searching for is old, thin, tall and using a cane Maya asks, “who the hell are we looking for…Gandolf?”