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Hypable

At this point it’s impossible to write about Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s portrayal of the hunt for Osama bin Laden without addressing all the controversial baggage that has come along with its release. Yet it’s more important to address it as a piece of filmmaking, to which it is a masterful, towering achievement.

Zero Dark Thirty packs a massive punch as it distills the 10 year hunt for bin Laden into a 157 minute procedural that ends spectacularly. Cold and uncompromising throughout, the film will likely turn some off as from the start it is perhaps an overly intense experience. Much has been made of the film’s opening moments, which sees CIA interrogator Dan (Jason Clarke) using “enhanced interrogation techniques,” (read: water-boarding and sleep deprivation) on a detainee. The film’s central character, Maya (Jessica Chastain), watches in the background during what boils down to an extended torture sequence.

Zero Dark Thirty

It’s brutal to watch and immediately sets the stakes as high as possible, regardless of the fact we know the outcome of the film going into it. To address the controversies surrounding the inclusion and use of torture in the film, I’ll simply say by having it in the film, Bigelow and Boal are definitely not endorsing torture or even saying it works. Instead, it’s much more of a journalistic approach, and definitely doesn’t play fast and loose with it, rather letting history (or their interpretation of it) speak for itself.

Jessica Chastain is stunning as Maya, a character that constantly surprises. She is a terrifically written character which Chastain brings a quiet power to that perfectly matches the tone of the film. The film shifts between different chapters of the decade-long search, as the likes of Kyle Chandler, James Gandolfini, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez, Mark Duplass and Jennifer Ehle appear in supporting roles as various CIA operatives and higher-ups.

These performances are all solid, as are Chris Pratt, Joel Edgerton and others as members of SEAL Team Six, but it’s Chastain and Clarke who stand out of the crowded ensamble piece. Maya’s tenacity and determination to find bin Laden fuels much of the energy of the film, which unfolds in detailed, procedural fashion. Her character arc is interesting to behold, as it occurs over the course of a decade. Clarke’s is also quite interesting, as early on we see him as the instigator of torture and ends up as a man behind a desk in Washington.

Zero Dark Thirty

Just as Boal wrote an impeccably crafted, impossibly detailed account of the search for bin Laden, Bigelow proves once again to have a command over her material, creating visceral, adrenaline-pounding sequences to balance out with the years of searching. While Maya is at the center, Bigelow impressively captures just how much of an effort the hunt was, while creating a chilling portrayal of al-Qaeda.

The attention and commitment to detail is impressive to say the least. Bigelow does an impressive job of keeping the audience with the film for the first two hours-plus of its running time, before SEAL Team Six arrives on the scene and delivers an impressive, breathtaking final act that will keep you on the edge of your seat, again, despite the fact that you know the outcome.

As Zero Dark Thirty comes to a close, Bigelow adds the right touches to make the film come together as well, if not better, than it started. There isn’t as much of an emotional impact here as with many other films of the year, however the result is just as impressive as any and all of them. It’s a remarkable achievement on multiple fronts, but perhaps more impressive of all is what is ultimately delivered: a dramatic retelling of recent moments in history of the highest order.

Grade: A

Rated: R (for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language)

Zero Dark Thirty expands nationwide on January 11, 2013.

  • http://twitter.com/CodeyWhite Codey White

    Chastain is hauntingly brilliant imo. Shoe in for the Oscar I think. I didnt expect to like this film as much as I did. Enjoyed it far more than her previous effort The Hurt Locker. In peticular I thought the scenes that bookend the film (the audio at the beginning) not the more controversial scene immediately following were perfect intros and conclusion to this fine work. Bravo Ms. Bigelow you were robbed.

    • http://hypable.com/author/jeremy-baril/ Jeremy Baril

      The audio was soooo effective. Way more so than visuals could be.

  • http://twitter.com/akacj7 Caroline J.

    Can’t believe Kathryn Bigelow didn’t get an Oscar nom… I am literally flabbergasted.

  • hpatdh33

    Best movie of the year by far. I would give it an A+!

  • http://www.hypable.com/ Joshua Nealey

    Chastain’s performance was literally the best I’ve seen in years. She carried this film completely and it was entirely brilliant all the way to her final seconds on screen. Who knew we could be so surprised by a film in which we already knew so much about its plot.

  • EagleHero

    The biggest issue I have with thsi film: it’s a huge american propaganda film.

    • http://hypable.com/author/jeremy-baril/ Jeremy Baril

      Yet it makes America look bad on several counts…

    • http://twitter.com/heat15sw heat15sw

      agree

  • Kristen Kranz

    Finally got the chance to see this today, and Chastain and Clarke were awesome. This also further cemented my love for Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton, even if their roles were fairly small. The last half hour really makes the film though. That, and the levity brought on by the Seal team at the end.

  • karma

    senate hearing committee already found out torte didn’t lead to bin Laden but some who do not will go away thinking it did , what a same , they did thought getting blood samples of his family members in the area and a person who work for him flip and help the cia

  • http://twitter.com/heat15sw heat15sw

    senate hearing committee already found out torture didn’t lead to bin Laden but some who do not know will go away thinking it did , what a same , they did thought getting blood samples of his family members in the area and a person who work for him flip and help the cia

  • http://twitter.com/KellyMegan10 Megan Kelly

    I have never heard a theater fall silent so quickly in the beginning of this film.

  • Lc

    I loved this film even though I am not behind everything that was done and the way things were handled in the hunt for Bin Laden. People should take it at face value rather than arguing we there or not they think it is distastefully glorifying this moment in history or if you think it makes America look bad. It happened and that’s not changing any time soon. This movie is a work of art and has my vote for best picture.

    Also I disagree with the end being less emotional than other films this year. I felt like it was one of the ones with the most.

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