Kathryn Bigelow sticks with what worked for her in her last outing, “The Hurt Locker,” by making another military themed film. This time she focuses on, as the tagline puts it, the most famous manhunt in history in “Zero Dark Thirty.”
This film has gotten a lot of negative publicity lately because of the portrayal of torture used in order to obtain information. Ultimately, the thing to remember here is that this is a movie based off what happened. It is not a documentary. It is just one version of what allowed the government to find Osama bin Laden.
The movie starts two years after 9/11 in 2003. We follow Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA officer as she begins her involvement in the search for bin Laden. She lets this search consume her and even as those around her begin to think they are chasing a ghost, she keeps searching for information.
Bigelow shines here by giving the film almost a documentary feel, which could be a large reason for the controversy that surrounds it. The placement of the camera and the minimal use of music give it a realistic vibe to give you the feeling you are actually sitting in the office, car, or helicopter with these people. Every time that a lead falls through or a higher up refuses to listen to Maya the audiences feels just as frustrated as she does.
That leads into the acting. Jessica Chastain does an excellent job as the only consistent character. The way Chastain portrays the character, she is able to communicate with just a look the frustration and worn down nature that she feels from this search.
Chastain is the only consistent character and that because the rest of the cast comes and goes. All the performances are good, but the roles are small. It is as if every character actor that did not appear in Spielberg’s “Lincoln” shows up in this film. Just to name a few; Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Mark Duplass, James Gandolfini, and Mark Strong all play higher ups in the CIA. Joel Edgerton, Taylor Kinney, and Chris Pratt all play members of Seal Team 6, though that name is never mentioned specifically.
Speaking of Seal Team 6, if nothing else, the scene involving the raid is the reason to see this film. It is incredibly intense to watch as these men complete this mission that had taken years to accomplish. Even though you know the outcome, it is hard not be on the edge of your seat for the whole sequence.
This isn’t a perfect movie though. It is dense with information, full of scenes with characters giving tons of important information. That is part of the down side of trying to condense a 10-year manhunt down to a two and a half hour film.
It is also incredibly frustrating. It puts the audience in the place of the characters and causes you to be just as frustrated as they are that they cannot find this needle in a haystack. This makes it feel long at points because you are frustrated and swimming in facts.
In the end, it is a successful film. It will stick with you long after you watch it. You will definitely want to make sure you are alert going into this one, and if you are you will be rewarded with a film that will make you think about just how much work goes into an international manhunt.
“Zero Dark Thirty,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language. Running time: 157 minutes. “Zero Dark Thirty” gets 5 out of 5 stars.