Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow scores big in similar territory to “The Hurt Locker” with “Zero Dark Thirty.” She re-teams with “Hurt Locker” screenwriter Mark Boal for a compelling and very realistic look at the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. It’s a riveting journey through the halls and briefing rooms of politics and investigation and into the uncertain desert environs of hostile territory. And even though we know how the story ends, the final thirty minutes will keep you on the edge of your seat.
No other current film grabs you with immediate intensity, establishes the world of the story and elicits an emotional response like the simple and very real opening does. Through a dark screen we hear various recorded voices from the September 11th attacks. The visuals then open on CIA operative Dan (the superbly natural Australian actor Jason Clarke) interrogating an Al Qaeda prisoner (an equally realistic Reda Kateb) named Ammar. Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain then enters as Maya, a fellow CIA operative on her first field assignment. Maya may be a rookie but she is a tireless investigator who quickly puts aside any misgivings she may have, firmly establishes her presence and becomes the one person to ultimately locate the target.
Maya also represents the audience. We are thrust into the already in progress action right alongside her and feel her initial uncertainty of being up to the task. When she then shows her mettle when left alone with Ammar, we too fully realize what must be done and eagerly hope to see her accomplish it.
The huge cast includes Kyle Chandler (in another fine performance similar to that in “Argo”), Harold Perrineau (“Lost”) and a surprise appearance by James Gandolfini. Everyone plays their roles with total authenticity and conviction. And that is the strength of this movie. Individual character identifications are not as important as telling the story of their relentless efforts in history’s greatest manhunt. “Zero Dark Thirty” superbly does just that.