Zero Dark Thirty

© 2012 Ray Wong

Zero Dark Thirty

The biggest manhunt in recent history has been brought to you by the filmmakers who gave us the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker. Given all the award buzz surrounding Kathryn Bigelow's newest film, I can't help but feel rather underwhelmed by the actual movie.

After 9/11/2001, Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA analyst, is recruited in a mission to track down Osama Bin Laden. Working within a team of field operatives, which includes Dan (Jason Clarke) and Jessica (Jennifer Ehle), Maya has to work with limited information provided by captured terrorists through unspeaking means such as torture and coercion. Even then, Maya has to use her judgment to discern which pieces of information is valid, and connect the dots as she goes along.

The manhunt turns into a decade-long obsession for Maya. Her boss, Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), has better things to do, thus leaving Maya and her team to do whatever is necessary. Maya's investigation leads her to a man named Abu Ahmad, who she believes is a covert courier for Bin Laden. She believes that if they can find Ahmad, they will find Bin Laden.

Unfortunately for Maya, her instincts and ability are met with scrutiny and resistance from within her own organization. But Maya believes she is right, and after a tragedy strikes, Maya's quest becomes even more personal for her. Against all odds and obstacles, and after almost 10 years working solely on this mission, Maya realizes she has now found Bin Laden.

Jessica Chastain (The Help) is an amazing actress. Maya is a resourceful, intelligent, and headstrong character that Chastain takes no time to sink her teeth into. Maya has a job to do and she delivers. Same with Chastain -- her demeanors could be construed as brash, unapologetic and yet she can also be doubtful and vulnerable. Chastain did a remarkable bringing the character to life and carrying the movie, even though the story doesn't allow a glimpse to her personal life, thus making her character somewhat one sided.

Jason Clarke (Lawless) is Dan, a CIA operative who works closely with Maya. Clarke also does a good job portraying someone who has a job to do and will do anything to get it done. Both their characters hover on the border of moral rightness, but they also know that the end will justify the means. Jennifer Ehle (The King's Speech) is effective as Maya's coworker who is too emotional, as opposed to Maya, to do her job.

The large supporting cast includes Kyle Chandler (Argo) in an adequate performance as Maya's boss, but I have trouble distinguish this with his character in Argo. Mark Strong (John Carter) has a brief but strong performance as George, one of those men up the chain of power. James Gandolfini (Killing Them Softly) is interesting as the Director (they never said his name, but we all know he plays David Patraeus). Rounding out the cast is Chris Pratt (The Five Year Engagement) and Joel Edgerton (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) as members of the SEAL team that finally nailed Bin Laden.

Written by Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) based on extensive research and declassified information, the screenplay is a taut exercise of procedural thriller. Almost no dialogue is wasted in this tight but long story (at over 2 1/2 hours), and there isn't a lot of room for anecdotal character development. The result is a fascinating and precise drama/thriller in the vein of David Fincher's Zodiac. The trouble with that kind of movie is that it lacks the emotional impact of a character-driven drama. At times, I caught myself thinking, "This is slick and great, but it's like a really good but long episode of CSI."

Don't get me wrong, under Kathryn Bigelow's (The Hurt Locker) direction, the movie is captivating. Bigelow and Boal also make no judgment for or against the controversial topic of torture. The movie makes a clever and deft reference to the "transition" as the Bush era ends and Obama becomes the President, but they never linger or make apologies. What is depicted on screen is a group of people dedicated to their job: to protect the American people, and to find Osama Bin Laden.

As masterfully made as it is, Zero Dark Thirty lacks the emotional connection that a strong thriller/drama about such an important mission should have. What has transpired often feels too calculated and cold. We really don't know much about these characters except for what they do on the job. We get a glimpse of Maya's personal life (or the lack of), but not enough to form a complete picture of her character. Even the famous conclusion of the story, I find myself unable to connect or empathize. What we get is a great procedural thriller that no one needs to see twice.

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini, Chris Pratt, Joel Edgerton
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Distributor: Columbia
MPAA Rating:  R for strong violence, brutal images, language
Running Time: 157 minutes 


Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 8

Total - 7.6 out of 10.0 

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