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Zero Dark Thirty Film Review

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Riveting Docudrama Recounts International Manhunt for Bin Laden

Zero Dark Thirty is a historical drama film, first released in 2012. Marketing for the film said it is "the story of history's greatest manhunt for the world's most dangerous man," it is a dramatization of the United States operation that located and killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, written by Mark Boal, the producers were Boal, Bigelow, and Megan Ellison. Financing was arranged independently by Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures.

The film stars Jessica Chastain, described by fellow film critic, Richard Roeper, as "one of the finest actors of her generation." Also, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, and Édgar Ramírez.

It premiered in Los Angeles, California in mid-December, 2012, moving to wide release on January 11, 2013.

After 9/11, the United States intensified its efforts in the international manhunt for Osama bin Laden (Ricky Sekhon). Nevertheless, the elusive mastermind of the terrorist attack continued to orchestrate mass murders in Bali, Istanbul, London, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere around the world.

Dismayed by the ever-mounting death toll, the authorities rationalized the use of rough interrogation tactics bordering on torture in the hope of expediting the capture, dead or alive, of the slippery al-Qaida leader. He was ultimately tracked down to a walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where he died on May 2, 2011 during a daring, helicopter raid conducted by Navy SEAL Team Six.

Directed by two-time, Academy Award-winner Kathryn Bigelow (for The Hurt Locker), Zero Dark Thirty (military speak for 12:30 AM) is a riveting, super-realistic account of the decade-long search for bin Laden. Bigelow has again collaborated with Oscar-winning scriptwriter Mark Boal (also for The Hurt Locker), with the pair apparently gaining access to classified materials in preparing the project.

zero dark thirty movie
Photo Credit: Rotten Tomatoes

The film is structured as a tale of female empowerment revolving around Maya (Jessica Chastain), a cool, calm and collected CIA agent who manages to keep her head even when so many around her seem to be losing theirs, literally and/or figuratively. She also has an uncanny knack for deciphering which clues might be worth following, cutting a sharp contrast in this regard to bumbling colleagues who fritter away most of their time on wild goose chases.

At the point of departure, we find Maya finally getting her first taste of fieldwork after starting her career boning-up on bin Laden behind a desk in Washington, D.C. She's been reassigned to participate in the questioning of al-Qaida members and sympathizers being detained at secret sites located outside the U.S. where the Geneva Conventions provisions relating to torture presumably don't apply.

Soon, Maya's chasing clues from Pakistan to Kuwait to Afghanistan and back, alongside tone-deaf bosses (Jason Clarke and Kyle Chandler) who could crack the case quickly if they weren't such male chauvinists suffering from Persistent Disbelief Syndrome. That's the shopworn plot device which pits a frustrated, unappreciated protagonist against an army of stubbornly skeptical naysayers.

Whether a convenient, cinematic contrivance or an accurate portrayal of what transpired, Zero Dark Thirty's version of history certainly makes for a very convincing piece of patriotic storytelling. Credit Jessica Chastain for imbuing her character, Maya, with a compelling combination of vulnerability, sagacity and steely resolve in a memorable, Oscar-quality performance.

CIA Agent Strangelove, or how I learned to stop worrying and love waterboarding!

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity, disturbing images and graphic violence.

Running time: 157 minutes

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

To see a trailer for Zero Dark Thirty:

Kam Williams is a syndicated film and book critic who writes for 100+ publications. He is a member of the New York Film Critics Online, the African-American Film Critics Association, and the NAACP Image Awards Nominating Committee. Contact him through NewsBlaze. Read more reviews by Kam Williams.

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