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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.44%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 2.78%
Total Crap: 5.56%

4 reviews, 12 user ratings

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Zero Dark Thirty
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by Jay Seaver

"A major manhunt, step by step."
5 stars

There are times in "Zero Dark Thirty" where the audience might stop and think that the moment is kind of Hollywood compared to the stark, nonsense-free material that surrounds it. For some, that may be just what this nuts-and-bolts movie needs, and those looking for just the facts likely won't find that it makes the movie less than riveting.

The story picks up two years after the attack that destroyed the World Trade Center. CIA analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain) has just been assigned to the US Embassy in Pakistan, though she also spends a fair amount of time across the border in Afghanistan, observing and assisting another agent, Dan (Jason Clarke), as he interrogates captured Al Qaida prisoners. That produces very little actionable intelligence until Maya gets him to mention a high-level courier, and she doggedly follows that lead as far as it will take her.

It's no spoiler to say that Maya's work will eventually lead to a midnight raid on a fortress-like residence in Pakistan, or that said operation is a success; that is recent, widely-reported history. So, what do director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal (who previously collaborated on The Hurt Locker) have for the audience? Details. Here is how quick thinking allows an investigator to turn a terrorist attack to her advantage; here is how a modern electronic dragnet lets the CIA find a needle in a haystack. Boal & Bigelow don't spend a lot of time explaining how things work or foreshadowing when things go violently wrong, and only rarely does it seem like they've altered or emphasized events to fit a conventional narrative; they're telling how something happened, rather than fitting history to a familiar character arc.

That sort of thing may be somewhat dry for people who aren't process junkies, but they're lucky to have Jessica Chastain and the rest of a strong cast. Few of them are given speeches to really hammer an emotion hoe or explain actions with backstory; what the audience needs to know is communicated with how characters do or say things rather than what. Chastain, in particular, is fantastic, inviting the audience to guess how much her twitchiness in the torture scene that opens the movie is fear and how much is distaste. She plays the role with a rare lack of humility for a protagonist, letting the audience see that her tendencies toward insubordination and obsession are linked to her intellect and instincts.

The rest of the cast is impressive, too, although Chastain is the only one that's there end-to-end. Jason Clarke, for instance, makes Dan an interesting contrast to Maya; despite his being introduced as a somewhat menacing figure in a torture scene, he eventually gives off a groundedness that makes him Maya's opposite or complement. Jennifer Ehle is likably laid-back as one of Maya's fellow analysts (and, wow, is it nice to see two smart women who are introduced taking opposite sides becoming friends rather than being snippy). Mark Duplass, James Gandolfini, and Mark Strong make solid impressions midway through the movie when the scene shifts to CIA headquarters in Langley, while Joel Edgerton and company get the job done as the special forces unit that will eventually conduct the raid.

And that raid is fantastic, playing in something close to real time with no underscore. Bigelow and company don't try to make the audience forget the outcome or create false suspense, instead giving the audience the feel of being on the ground with these very capable soldiers, showing how a variety of challenges must be met in a very short time, not shying away from the cold-blooded execution (this is not an action movie where an injured villain pulls out a hidden weapon to force the hero to kill him in self-defense to make it more palatable for the audience). It's a methodical answer to the seeming randomness of the terror strikes earlier in the movie, with both staged so impeccably as to always have the desired effect.

A certain amount of controversy is inevitable where this movie is concerned; it opens with Americans torturing a prisoner and ends with what is basically an execution. The road from point A to point B is well worth the trip, in this case, especially for those with a particular interest in how things like this are done.

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originally posted: 01/11/13 13:07:42
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User Comments

9/16/17 morris campbell very good 4 stars
8/20/14 Big Bad Wolf J. Chastain is not the only 1 in this pc, thanks god. 4 stars
7/27/14 Steve silver This truly a great film. Shows America at its best. Jessica Chastain brilliant 5 stars
7/23/13 Annie G Considering Hollywood, I'm not sure if this is mostly fiction, but a good one time film. 4 stars
4/17/13 Marlon Wallace The movie is a CIA procedural that morphs into a very smart, spy movie. 5 stars
4/07/13 mr.mike The documentary style works very well, 4.5 stars. 4 stars
2/17/13 Monday Morning "All the President's Men" meets "Flags of Our Fathers." A great story well told. 4 stars
1/22/13 FactFinder Adequate retelling of the govt fairytale about nonexistent boogeyman Osama 2 stars
1/14/13 Marty Hard topic to tackle, but overall well done. Forces you to decide pro/anti torture 4 stars
1/14/13 Del Watching Dallas 'Who Shot J.R.?' episodes was more entertaining 1 stars
1/13/13 KathrynISaHack ZDT & THL are just like every generic modern military show. As hackneyed as it gets. 1 stars
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  19-Dec-2012 (R)
  DVD: 19-Mar-2013


  DVD: 19-Mar-2013

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