Zero Dark Thirty


Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker (2008) won a boatload of awards in 2009, including the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director. Bigelow has not been nominated for an Oscar for directing Zero Dark Thirty, and, though it's a quality picture I won't argue with the Academy's decision. In fact, I suspect the reason the film has been included among the 9 contenders for Best Picture has more to do with its subject matter (the dogged post 9/11 hunt for Osama Bin Laden) than anything else. This episodic movie follows a young female CIA counter-terrorism agent named Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she and her fellow operatives, principally chief interrogator Dan (Jason Clarke), try to pull information out of detainees through torture and intimidation only to be thwarted repeatedly by the prisoner's resistance and Al Qaeda caginess. Shortly after joining the team, which is stationed first in Pakistan and then Afghanistan, Maya discovers the identity of one of Bin Laden's couriers. It is her pursuit of this ghostly figure that lies at the heart of the film. Chastain plays Maya with an edginess that is not altogether inappropriate in the male-dominated field of counter-intelligence, but occasionally feels off-key -- too much profanity, too many threats. But because there is so little conventional character development in this film, I was not able to determine if the ambivalence I felt toward Maya as a person was the script (written by Mark Boal, who also wrote the much tighter and much more graceful Hurt Locker), the directing or the acting. Still, Bigelow is a master at staging close-quarter action sequences and the siege on Bin Laden's compound that ends the film is wonderfully constructed and worth the wait. Recommended but way too intense for children.

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