Genre: Action, Drama, History | Run Time: 157 min | Rated: R
Director: Kathryn Bigelow | Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Harold Perrineau
By George Wolf
You may have heard Zero Dark Thirty is nothing but a slice of Obama hero worship, or conversely, an immoral defense of enhanced interrogation.
It is neither.
It is however, a brilliant work that covers every angle of a sensitive subject in impeccable fashion, and stands as the best film of 2012.
Originally drafting the script to chronicle the futile search for Osama bin Laden, writer Mark Boal changed course after the news of bin Laden’s death. He started again, crafting a fact-based drama that, almost miraculously, steers clear of judgmental stances. Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, the Oscar-winning duo behind The Hurt Locker, infuse ZD30 with intelligence, courage, and admirable restraint.
As the search for bin Laden unfolds, the film is just not interested in holding your hand or telling you how to feel. Much like CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) wading through all possible leads, you’re expected to thicken your skin and keep up. Chastain’s remarkable performance digs deep, and makes Maya (reportedly based on an agent still working in the field) a fascinating figure.
But beyond a simple character study, the film excels on multiple levels, often for the paths it refuses to take.
From the opening treatment of the Sept. 11th attack to the moment when bin Laden is finally taken out, there are numerous chances for Boal and Bigelow to succumb to jingoistic flag waving, overt sentimentality, or simple crowd pleasing. Each time they stay true to their vision. These are events which have become epic in scale, but here they take on a respectful intimacy which is gloriously free of pretense.
Bigelow again establishes herself as a director of consummate skill. The look inside the search for credible intelligence is completely engrossing, only to be outdone when SEAL Team 6 moves in. Shot in near real time to the duration of the actual raid, the action is flawlessly executed and breathlessly tense. And by the way, for anyone needing another reason to give these SEALs mad respect, here it is.
Yes, the film is controversial, and how you react to the brutality will likely depend on your worldview. Beyond that, Zero Dark Thirty is a stunning film achievement destined to be dissected, condemned and appreciated for years to come.