By Gary Murray

Starring Jessica Chastain

Written by Mark Boal

Directed by Kathryn Bigalow

Running time 157 min

MPAA Rating R

Selig Film Rating—FULL PRICE


Jessica Chastain has been doing some incredible work in some good and mediocre films over the last few years.  Lately she has appeared in The Texas Killing Fields, Tree of Life and Take Shelter—delivering great readings in weak films.  She gained major notice by being Celia in The Help.  Her latest is also her greatest shot at snagging an Oscar and is called Zero Dark Thirty.

The title Zero Dark Thirty refers to twelve-thirty at night, the time for more clandestine operations.  The tale told is the hunt for one of the most wanted men on the planet—the mastermind behind 9/11 Osama Bin Laden. 

Jessica plays Maya, a CIA agent who has been on the case for her entire career.  She is steadfast and determined.   As the work opens, she watches intense interrogations also known as water boarding.  The more the CIA uses the techniques, the more ahead of the game they seem to get.  Consider it a close-up of making the sausage in the way interrogations happen.  It is not a pretty sight.

Maya eventually begins to put the puzzle pieces together and believes that Bin Laden is not hiding in the caves of Afghanistan but is living more of a life of leisure in Pakistan.  She works on hunches and slight details that lead her to the conclusion.  She pushes against the status quo in order to get her theory believed to be fact. Very few believe her theory.

The film takes about two hours for the film to finally get to the moment everyone wants to see.  The hunt and killing of Osama is the highlight of the film and it is presented in an exciting fashion.   It is a brutal bit of action that feels like the real thing.  They take out anyone with a gun in the search for the mastermind.  It is a very realistic bit of violence.  Seal Team Six are presented just as they should be, rollicking heroes with gun-ho attitudes.  It is almost a love letter to the Navy and these brave men.

The story plays more like a modern re-telling of Moby Dick, with a terrorist taking place of a great white whale.  Both stories are about obsession and the lengths one will go through to achieve an end.  The film banks more along the lines of fixation to a goal than to the questioning of what is right or wrong in getting to that goal.

But, Jessica Chastain is perfect as Maya, our obsessed CIA agent.  With steadfast resolve, she has had only one professional ambition, to kill her prey.  This is a do-or-die role of a woman who is laser focused on achieving her work.  This is easily one of the strongest performances of the year and a major Oscar contender in the Best Actress category.

Kathryn Bigalow is the director behind The Hurt Locker and this film is much more of the same.  It is part high-tension action with soul searching interpersonal moments.  She strikes that same balance in Zero Dark Thirty.  It is a master craftsman making a masterful work of cinema.

Some people are going to find a political agenda in the frames of Zero Dark Thirty. I have no idea if the film is in any way true and most of the world has no idea what happened on that May night.  As an entertainment (without examining all the political angles), it is one of the most exciting films of 2012 and a definite Oscar contender.  This is a film not to be missed.    


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