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With: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Scott Adkins, Lauren Shaw, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramírez, Mark Duplass, James Gandolfini, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Nash Edgerton
Written by: Mark Boal
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language
Running Time: 157
Date: 18/12/2012
IMDB

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

4 Stars (out of 4)

'Zeroed' In

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Zero Dark Thirty is the film of the year not because it's about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, but because Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow has used that subject to discuss other things.

If any other director had interpreted this material, it would have turned into something to be merely tolerated during awards season and then forgotten.

But Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) is the only director alive that understands the complexity of violence; others show either the allure of violence or the repugnance of violence. Bigelow shows both.

For example, we have the movie's hotly debated depiction of "waterboarding" and the torture of accused terrorists. Bigelow shows it as both an effective means of extracting useful information and as a horrific practice that wears down everyone involved.

It's a Rorschach test; viewers may come away with only one viewpoint or the other, but they're both here.

Indeed, the movie has been correctly described as "apolitical," in that it barely mentions either of the two U.S. presidents in office during this manhunt, nor does it mention other partisan topics. It elicits an emotional response rather than a political one.

The opening sequence depicts the events of 9/11 simply as a black screen and a minute or two worth of the sounds of frantic phone calls, and the equally simple, equally powerful final scene also tells volumes.

In the middle, Bigelow presents the bulk of the story as a tense police procedural. One main character, CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain), drives the plot while minor characters float in and out of her life.

Over the course of a decade, Maya finds promising leads that turn into dead ends, and then unpromising little tidbits that turn into even better leads. It's imprecise work that requires meticulous attention to detail and not much private life.

One memorable shot shows Maya with some rare downtime; wrapped up in a burka, she returns home with Red Vines and soda for dinner.

Bigelow saves the excitement for the movie's climax: a daring raid on a house in which bin Laden may be staying. This nail-biting sequence has such a powerful impact that the dark, sinister nature of it may not even be evident until later.

The movie's greatness depends upon Bigelow's past as a crackerjack maker of "B" movies and genre movies, Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days, etc.

Only someone with this resume could get inside Maya's story and tell it with a compulsively watchable quality. Indeed, Maya's journey is similar to that of Keanu Reeves' in Point Break. It's dirty work, but it can be thrilling.
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