Zero Dark Thirty is a masterwork of political and military espionage, at once the story of the search for the most wanted man in the world and the personal journey of the woman whose crusade against common wisdom helped find Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain gives an Oscar-worthy leading performance and the culminating raid is starkly realistic. A movie that gives an account of history without moralizing or whitewashing, ZDT has earned every piece of praise it has been given.
Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, a CIA analyst who is on the hunt for bin Laden. Her character journey is a fascinating one, going from a rookie (though not wide-eyed) to a jaded pro without ever falling into the broad acting traps that would have ensnared a lesser actor. She’s never too feminine or masculine, instead playing an honest, realistic human being.
Chastain’s successes are due in no small part to a tight script by Mark Boal who previously teamed with director Katheryn Bigelow in their Oscar-winning effort The Hurt Locker. ZDT shares many similarities with that picture but on a macro scale. Instead of looking into the mind of a damaged character during one incident Bigelow and Boal crack into the mindset of a driven agent whose quest takes many years to complete and hits many roadblocks from both domestic and foreign sources.
Zero Dark Thirty does not moralize about the means of gleaning information from prisoners, instead presenting the method and allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions. No character stands in either defiance or support of the practice. This presentation gives the moments some wonderful emotional resonance.
The film’s final act features the infamous raid on UBL’s compound in Pakistan and is an intense scene. While the film’s marketing is focusing largely on this moment it is just a small part of the proceedings. A military procedural film with fantastic characters, performances, and direction ZDT is a brilliant telling of recent history.
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