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The Telegram
  • Movie review: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ a gripping tale of the hunt for bin Laden

  • The title of Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up film to her Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” is military jargon for half-past midnight – the exact time Navy SEALs hit the ground at the Pakistani compound where they killed Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011.

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  • The title of Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up film to her Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” is military jargon for half-past midnight – the exact time Navy SEALs hit the ground at the Pakistani compound where they killed Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011.
    The film climaxes in the tension-filled raid, but it’s not - as preview trailers suggest - really what it’s about. In the two hours preceding that half-hour sequence, we get the story of the almost decade-long, frustration-filled search that led up to it. We’re also introduced to Maya (Jessica Chastain), the CIA operative who, almost immediately upon her arrival at the CIA black site-detention center, is positioned to take charge of finding bin Laden.
    On her first day there, she’s brought in to observe a suspected terrorist who’s chained up, waterboarded, and stuffed in a small box ... OK, tortured, in order to get information out of him.
    But far from the recent complaints of U.S. senators, from both sides of the aisle, who claim to have seen the film, and are slamming it for its inaccuracies in portraying what went on at those black sites, the film neither promotes nor celebrates torture. It’s there, all right, and it’s tough to watch, and in a couple of cases (according to the film), it resulted in some solid leads. But it’s in the film because it did happen.
    The early torture scenes provide a jumping off point in telling Maya’s story. When she first sees what’s going on, she’s appalled; she can’t even look. Later on, she’s one of the people doing the questioning (but not doling out any punishment). Still later, years later, she has transformed from a meek newcomer to a hardened operative – some call her the “agency expert.” Chastain, who played a troubled Mossad agent in “The Debt,” turns in a magnificent performance as an agent who’s trained to be unemotional, and succeeds, except for the few times she’s alone.
    But this is not only about Maya. There are plenty of people around her, many of whom meet their demise during the search, much of which is shown in talky, behind-doors sessions, some of which happens out in the field. Years go by, with specific dates and locations flashing up on the screen, almost like chapter headings, that will alert students of history about what’s going to happen.
    Of course, everyone knows how it’s going to end, and when the familiar-looking compound is finally shown, the film’s slow pace and scenes of endless talking make way for some knuckle-biting action. The final section is presented in something close to documentary style. The sight from behind green night-vision goggles is creepy, the atmosphere is cramped, the absence of soundtrack music is unnerving. It’s easy to forget everything that led up to this point, except for the fact that you’ve witnessed an amazing arc in the character of Maya. But even that might not register in some viewers, as most will be going through feelings of excitement, exhilaration and exhaustion.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Zero Dark Thirty” is written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow.
    Ed Symkus is a movie critic for GateHouse News Service.

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