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Film Review: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Turns CIA Procedural Into Riveting Thriller

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CHICAGO – Kathryn Bigelow opens her stunning “Zero Dark Thirty” with a date and a series of voice mail recordings. The date is, of course, September 11, 2001 and the recordings are the ghosts of the people who died that day, perfectly setting the stakes for the story to come – the hunt for and capture of Osama Bin Laden. Over the next two-and-a-half hours, the Oscar-winning director and the screenwriter she worked with on “The Hurt Locker,” Mark Boal, methodically chronicle the twists and turns of the last decade in the life of the most infamous terrorist in the world. They brilliantly weave in the elements we know (or think we do) like waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, Richard Reid, and the Marriott bombing with information that will be new to most viewers and they place one stunning actress right in the middle of it all as Jessica Chastain serves as our fascinating guide through this CIA procedural. It’s an amazing film, one of the best of the year.

HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 5.0/5.0
Rating: 5.0/5.0

In the first scene of “Zero Dark Thirty,” Maya (Chastain) has been assigned to participate in the torture and interrogation of a man who may have information related to the location of Osama Bin Laden. It’s only a few years after 9/11 and the freedom as to what CIA agents are allowed to do in order to get vital details from a captive is limitless. Dan (Jason Clarke), the agent in charge, is pushing his subject to the brink of death, waterboarding him, beating him, stripping him in front of Maya, and placing him in a box with no food. Whatever it takes to get Osama Bin Laden.

StarRead Brian Tallerico’s full review of “Zero Dark Thirty” in our reviews section.

After a few years of interrogations, a name comes to the forefront that intrigues Maya, who now works in an office with Jessica (Jennifer Ehle), Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), Jack (Harold Perrineau), and others. Their task is fascinatingly captured in Boal’s script in the sense that these people were forced to wage multiple wars at one time. They’d get a piece of information that may lead them to Bin Laden but they were equally concerned and engaged in trying to stop pending terrorist attacks. And the misinformation was overwhelming. Maya becomes obsessed with a name of a courier that keeps coming up in repeated and interesting ways. This courier seems to be the one solitary person who may still be in touch with Bin Laden on a regular basis. Find him and they’ll find their target.

Spanning a decade of international intrigue was the first of many daring decisions by Boal & Bigelow. There certainly could have been a film made solely about the day Bin Laden was caught. The final 45 minutes of “ZDT” captures that assault in a riveting, almost clinical way that produces more tension than any action film this year. Bigelow & Boal had a greater story in mind – the story of an entire era of terrorism, bookended by its two most important events: 9/11 & the death of Osama Bin Laden. In between, we are presented with the most rivetingly detailed examination of how bureaucracy, ego, misinformation, passion, and pure evil intertwined in this war on terror. And, perhaps most remarkably, it’s all done on the outline of a character study of a woman who gave up her life for one cause.

StarContinue reading for Brian Tallerico’s full “Zero Dark Thirty” review.

“Zero Dark Thirty” stars Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez, Mark Duplass, James Gandolfini, Stephen Dillane, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Taylor Kinney, and Frank Grillo. It was written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow. It opens in Chicago on January 4, 2013.

Zero Dark Thirty
Zero Dark Thirty
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

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