Monday, August 5, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.
2012. Rated R, 157 minutes.
Jennifer Ehle
Edgar Ramirez
Harold Perrineau

It’s quite simple, really. This is all about the almost decade long hunt for Osama bin Laden after the events of 9/11. Maya (Chastain) joins the CIA’s effort early on and eventually comes to spearhead it. We see her and her colleagues feverishly gathering intelligence and note the differences in how this is done before and after the general public found out about waterboarding. We see Maya persevere in the face of waning support from her superiors. Finally, we see…well, you know how this ends.

Movies based on true stories generally have to contend with the audience already knowing the outcome. Here, the problem is multiplied because a) it is more well-known than most and b) it’s still pretty fresh in our collective memory. The devil has to be in the details, and so it is. To that end, we get a procedural chronicling Maya’s difficult path to victory. It’s an atypical war movie in that it’s all about a chess match on the grandest scale, not an all out depiction of battle. However, there are bursts of violence sprinkled throughout and the culmination of all of our heroine’s work is the operation performed by Seal Team Six. By the way, this is done with great accuracy, according to everything I've heard or read about it.

Before we get to that finale, it’s all about war waged on multiple fronts. Most obviously, there is the overall war on terrorism. Within that broader scope, there is the war between the CIA and the White House over what procedures are acceptable and which are not. Then there is the war between Maya and her own bosses over whether or not to keep her pursuit alive. Speaking of alive, there is also the war to keep her that way once her identity becomes known to her enemies. As Maya, Jessica Chastain is nothing, if not fierce. Her ferocity is drawn from unwavering conviction. She is the type of person we viewers might not like if we had to work with/for her, but we’d appreciate her and be glad she’s on our side. It’s not that she’s mean or even inaccessible. It’s that to call her dedicated to the mission is like saying that Oprah has a little money tucked away.

Through Chastain’s performance, an excellent script and supporting cast, and the gravity of the situation, director Kathryn Bigelow crafts an engrossing film. It grabs hold of us as it explains the hows of the whats we already know. We’re intrigued by the process. When we get to the last scene, we do as Maya does. We exhale.

MY SCORE: 9/10

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