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Zero Dark Thirty (2013)
The film stars Jessica Chastain as CIA officer Maya, newly assigned from Washington to the Pakistan-based US intelligence team charged with the singular purpose of distilling the flow and fog of intel surrounding Al-Qaeda's enigmatic network towards bringing closure to a wounded nation and justice to the most wanted man in American history during that time.
Zero Dark Thirty is an oftentimes slow-moving, intellectually meticulous patchwork procedural drama sporadically punctuated by the grit of intense chase scenes and brutal violence. Yes, the torture of a detainee depicted shortly after the pitch black cacophony of audio from that horrific September day in 2001 is jarring and inhumane, and decisively sets the tone for what plays out during the next hundred-plus minutes. Remove the film's 9/11 hyperbole, however, and any horror flick worth its salt is far more violent than what's seen in this picture. For the most part, you merely witness the burdensome daily grunt work Maya experiences in doggedly constructing plausible evidence that may lead to tangible results under the collective din of her country's shattered emotions, panicked blood lust and the chill of cautious politics.
This is an investigative drama framed within the context of recent historical events, from 2003 until the assassination of Osama bin Laden by United States Navy SEALs on May 2, 2011, yet this fact-based film's closing credits actually do acknowledge events and characters were fictionalized or invented for the purposes of telling the story. Despite the innumerable populations of CIA personnel devoted to this manhunt worldwide, that a lone figure named Maya ultimately delivers the, uh, apocalypse to bin Laden's doorstep pretty much screams that aspects of Boal's screenplay are concocted Hollywood clichés enhanced by facts. And, that's fine. It never claims to be a documentary. Its entertainment. Barely.
Boal's screenplay isn't particularly overwhelming or crackling with memorable dialogue, unfortunately. Given the subject matter and news that he and Bigelow were granted unprecedented access to relevant classified information, I expected much more from the script and characters. The film editing seems uneven as well, leaving you sitting through over-long shots of silent, empty moments that I guess are supposed to mean something to somebody, somewhere at some point. Maybe. Yes, I got that the burning aircraft near the end bookends the burning aircraft we all saw on 9/11. Sorry, it's too indulgently artsy to be necessary. And, while this feature showcases a wealth of wonderfully understated, believable performances, Chastain's starring efforts feel almost robotic and bland throughout. Sure, her character does follow an interesting arc of subtle transformation from being a visibly shaken observer to a coldly obsessed casualty of her job, but it's definitely a struggle maintaining interest in what happens to Maya as this film progresses - to the point where it's almost a relief when the Navy SEALs finally drop in on Osama's Pakistan compound in the final act.
The official site includes the usual info, videos and photos sections, as well as a features page that offers a three-part covert ops memory-testing game. The splash page also serves up a couple of extra links: One to a separate tumblr site of related news articles scraped from the web and a second link to EA's Medal of Honor Zero Dark Thirty Map Pack charitable tie-in for gamers. Not a whole lot going on there, really.
The term Zero Dark Thirty apparently means half an hour after midnight in military slang. 30 more minutes of Zero Dark Thirty left on the cutting room floor might have saved it from feeling so unnecessarily plodding, but the real tragedy of this post-9/11 drama is that there's more to do with marketing hype and timely controversy during awards season at play in filling seats with paying moviegoers than this picture offering you a compelling screenplay worth your time and that does justice to those actually involved in this real life story. Disappointing. Reviewed 01/13, © Stephen Bourne.
Zero Dark Thirty is rated 14A
by the Ontario Film Review Board for scenes containing some grotesque
images in a fantasy, comedic or historic context, coarse language,
sexual references, nudity in a non-sexual context, occasional
upsetting or disturbing scenes, tobacco use, and violent acts
shown in clear, unequivocal and realistic detail with blood and
tissue damage, and is rated 13+ by la Régie du Cinéma
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