Academy Award Winning director Kathryn Bigelow's brand new film, Zero Dark Thirty, opens with a disclosure stating the the movie is based on first-hand accounts of actual events. This sets the stage for one of the most authentic and realistic motion pictures in recent memory. Politically unbiased and emotionally charged, Zero Dark Thirty completely delivers on its marketing tagline: "The greatest manhunt in history".
Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, a fiery young CIA Analyst who, in some ways, believes she's destined to find the United States' Most Wanted Fugitive, Osama Bin Laden. Hired by the U.S. government fresh out of High School, Maya is sent to Afghanistan and Pakistan to take part in detainee interrogations and gather vital intelligence after the tragic events of September 11th. Throughout a tireless decade long search for the fugitive, Maya follows a seemingly unlikely lead that ultimately results in the May 2nd, 2011 execution of Osama Bin Laden.
Gripping and relentless, Zero Dark Thirty is the epitome of top-flight contemporary filmmaking. Bigelow's follow up to her 2009 Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker, faces its critics and audiences with a humble sense of entitlement that whispers "repeat" for the director and film. One of the most commendable aspects of Bigelow's work is Zero Dark Thirty's ability to slowly shift the picture's focus from start to finish. What begins as a nation's quest for justice, filters itself down to one woman's unyielding battle for resolution, and that woman is brilliantly portrayed by Jessica Chastain. The 2012 Academy Award Nominee's towering performance is unrivaled by any other lead female's work over the past calendar year. Therefore, I would expect to hear Chastain's name called in late February when they hand out the Oscar for Best Actress. Screenwriter Mark Boal's well-crafted character development is brilliantly executed by Chastain and it adds an enormous dimension to film. Alongside Maya, the audience grinds through the highs and lows of a ten year search. For as exhausting and intense as the ride is, the night-visioned finale provides a gratifying and tempered conclusion. By demonstrating admirable restraint, Bigelow's respectful and never overly-patriotic ending packs an even bigger punch. With an unfathomable amount of decisions to be made, Bigelow seems to make all of the right ones and the final product is one of 2012's greatest achievements.
Back in the Fall of 2012, Zero Dark Thirty was nothing more than a quiet dark horse on the road to the Oscars. But now that the feature has finally reached theatres in Los Angeles and New York City, it's clearer than ever that Kathryn Bigelow's masterpiece is a force to be reckoned with. The only minor flaw with the film appears during a short lull in the third act. As a movie where the end result is predetermined, the whole "Maya vs. the world" subplot is taken the smallest bit too far. The entire audience already knows that President Obama eventually gives the green light on the raid but after investing over two hours into the film, Bigelow continues to harp on the notion that many higher ups involved questioned Maya's certainty. Just as the feature begins a slight decline, Zero Dark Thirty abruptly refocuses and gets back on course with an edge-of-your-seat finale.
While some will inevitably rummage through Zero Dark Thirty in hopes of finding a political agenda, the truth is one doesn't exist. Yes, the movie touches on the idea that enhanced interrogation techniques were used in order to obtain valuable intelligence, but who can argue the greater effectiveness of such actions? Yet, Zero Dark Thirty mindfully avoids addressing the even bigger question, is it worth it? Acknowledging some Hollywood dramatization, it's important to view the film in an entertainment-only context. Although we will never know the whole truth behind the decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty gives us a captivating and realistic story to cling to. Due out in theatres all across the country on January 11th, 2013, this is one Oscar contender you won't want to miss.