MOVIE REVIEW: 'Zero Dark Thirty'

The hunt for Bin-Laden in a gripping film.

If there is one image that sticks in one’s mind after viewing Zero Dark Thirty, it is the three-level concrete “home” in Abbotabad, Pakistan where Osama Bin-Laden finally met his violent demise. For this reviewer, it brought to mind Hannah Arendt’s famous dictum about “the banality of evil.”

With all the graphic, gritty and often disturbing images of torture, water-boarding and other assorted atrocities on parade in director Kathyrn Bigelow’s film, it is that ugly house surrounded by a wall that resonates with the fact that even the most sought-after criminal in the world had to live someplace, eat, bathe, watch television (and apparently lots of porn too), etc.  

After more than a decade of the most intensive man-hunt in American history, through the mountains and caves of Afghanistan and beyond, it was the ultimate irony that Bin-Laden was captured and killed almost in plain sight.

  • Zero Dark Thirty is playing at the Regency at 12:30, 4, 7:15 and 10:30 p.m.

By now, we are all aware of the controversy surrounding Ms. Bigelow’s depiction of CIA-sanctioned and administered enhanced interrogation of suspects, and the director wisely incorporates a scene of Barack Obama on television vigorously asserting that “America does not torture.”  

This scene is followed by a a close-up of our protagonist, Maya, portrayed by a very good but slightly miscast Jessica Chastain (of The Help fame). Maya, based on a real-life character, is an original screen creation. Almost far too young and glamorous to be in the position of hunting down an infamous terrorist and the architect of 9/11, Ms. Chastain nevertheless displays the quiet determination and single-mindedness that are the hallmarks of people successful in more normal life pursuits, let alone immersing herself in a chosen profession involving high-level danger at every turn.  

Had screenwriter, Mark Boal, given us a bit of back story on Maya, we might be more apt to accept this young woman as a blood-and-guts living person, rather than the enigma she comes off as in Ms. Chastain’s otherwise skilled performance.   

Comparisons are inevitable with Ms. Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (also penned by Mr. Boal), for which she deservedly won the best directing Oscar in 2009, beating out the odds-on-favorite, the blockbuster, Avatar. That earlier film benefited from a more tightly focused scenario and the fact that we were plunged into a world that few of us knew anything about—the incredibly brave soldiers who dismantled improvised explosive device (IEDs) during the Iraqi War. 

If anything, Zero Dark Thirty suffers from the all-too-recent event memory of President Obama’s announcing the Navy Seal raid that resulted in Bin-Laden’s death in Pakistan.

There is a lot of terrain to be covered leading up to that night at the house and even at a running time of 2 ½ hours, we feel a bit short-changed. The early scenes of interrogation and torture are presented as a given and the moral implications conveniently left for us to decide according to our consciences. 

To be fair, this is a “movie” and not a documentary. Ms. Bigelow reveals her sharp eye and ability to pace the film towards its resolution, keeping us on the edge of our seats, even knowing the outcome.   

As one interrogated informant tells Maya, Bin-Laden is “among the missing” and will never be found. Fortunately for the film and world, this proved untrue. 


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