At the Movies: Zero Dark Thirty

One of the best movies of 2012 — possibly the best movie that doesn’t have Avengers in it — has finally made its way to St. Louis and other parts of the country that aren’t important enough to get you Oscar consideration.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is a gripping, sprawling, compelling look at the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden. The film opens with a brief, dramatic segment on September 11 — made all the more chilling by what you don’t see.

20121204023455209From there the film moves ahead two years, introducing us to its central character — a young CIA operative named Maya (Jessica Chastain). Maya has been assigned to work with fellow operative Dan (Jason Clarke) in Pakistan. Dan has been busy interrogating — and by interrogating I mean torturing — a detainee with financial links to al-Qaeda terrorists.

Information from the detainee puts Maya on a decade-long search for Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, whom she believes is a courier for bin Laden. As the years go by, Maya becomes obsessed with finding bin Laden, even when many other officials seem to have lost interest.

Her persistence finally pays off when Abu Ahmed is seen entering a large compound Abbottabad, Pakistan. Maya is convinced bin Laden is living there, but before the president will send in the U.S. Navy SEALs, she’s going to have to convince several higher-ups, including CIA director Leon Panetta (James Gandolfini).

Directed and co-produced by Kathryn Bigelow with screenplay by Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty” isn’t as good as the duo’s previous collaboration — “The Hurt Locker” — but it’s close. “Hurt Locker” had a tighter focus and kept the viewer constantly on edge. “Zero Dark Thirty” crams 10 years of information into 2.5 hours of film and it’s a bit too much to absorb.

It’s still an impressive piece of work and an absorbing film, despite its lengthy running time. Bigelow makes some interesting directing choices and keeps this complex story moving without getting mired in details. It’s hard to account for how she didn’t get an Academy Award nomination.

Chastain, however, did not get robbed of a nomination. Good thing, as her performance is key to the film’s success. The rest of the cast is fine, especially Clarke, but Chastain is the real standout.

Is “Zero Dark Thirty” an accurate portrayal of everything that went down in the hunt for bin Laden? Probably not. It’s not a documentary, it’s an action thriller. And one of the year’s best films. Well, last year — and probably this year.

 

 

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