It’s not surprising that the death of Osama bin Laden would lead to a movie, miniseries, and a collection of books. When it was announced that Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, the Academy Award team behind “The Hurt Locker,” would be reworking the preexisting screenplay to include the raid on his compound, I got goose bumps. Could lightning strike twice and propel a true-life account of a normally box-office poison topic to critical and popular acclaim?
The film paints a stark picture by beginning with actual radio and phone calls from September 11, 2001. From there, “Zero Dark Thirty” follows Maya (Jessica Chastain) on her decade long quest to find Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network and bring it down. For a film that feels instantly classic and fresh simulaneously, the mixture of recreation and inclusion of other terrorist attacks from the last ten years keeps the story front and center. This is almost more informational than entertainment, even if the film takes some liberties in the sake of storytelling. Unlike “Argo” that builds tension to unbearable levels, “Zero Dark Thirty” stretches its lead and the audience as we watch as Maya finds it increasingly hopeless to shut al-Qaeda down.
“Zero Dark Thirty” is an ensemble picture as much as it is about the determination of one woman. Great performances by recognizable actors keep the film flowing when the script wears a bit thin. Jessica Chastain pulls us in and we feel her every frustration and success as Maya devotes herself so completely to her job. Her ability to resonate on screen, and the endless stream of great cameos, keep the film from ever falling flat.
A lot of controversy surrounds the film, from the portrayal of torture to how much access Bigelow and Boal had to actual case files. After seeing the film, I can see the justification of both claims. However, the controversy is only increasing awareness, building curiosity around the film that is nominated for five Academy Awards this year, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay and a nomination for Jessica Chastain’s great performance.
Though the film is much more character study mixed with our recent history than an action film, this is a smart and deep film. Definitely worth the watch if for no other reason than the recreation of the actual raid on bin Laden’s compound. 3 out of 5 stars.
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