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Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

 The hunt for UBL. Zero junk. Lots of dark controversy.

Overall Grade: A-
Story: A-
Acting: B
Direction: A
Visuals: A


Summary: The hunt for Usama Bin Laden is the modern epitome of our hunt for evil. This is the Hollywood dramatization of that story. It is gritty, but not overplayed. It is political, but not harshly partisan. It's a very good film that stays, like the protagonist, in the hunt of its target.

Full Review: "The Hurt Locker" is one of the most intense modern war films of our era. It's director, Katherine Bigalow, is the director of "Zero Dark Thirty".  The movie is fine-tuned to present the lighting, action, and dialog of what real special ops missions are truly about. Add to that the CIA investigation and tracking of Usama bin Laden (labeled coldly as UBL throughout) and you have a convincing, engrossing and controversial movie.

I have to admit that I saw "Argo" recently and it was hard not to think in parallels of what was being attempted with this film. But in its sheer weight, action and story "Zero Dark Thirty" is a clear winner. While the plot of the movie culminates in 30 minutes of action, as the operation is engaged and UBL is hunted to his death, the main narrative centers around the character Maya. She is the CIA analyst who spends her entire career hunting down UBL from her desk and gathering evidence from interviews of others in the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Maya becomes the hero in this film, though critics have notably downplayed the role of individuals, saying there was a huge network of information and work that made the hunt successful.

Like most based-on-reality films, "Zero Dark Thirty" is not a precise retrace of the exact story, but is supposedly very close to events. As a movie-goer, I am less interested in each and every detail of the hunt, but want to know the general storyline. Jessica Chastain (who plays Maya) is a unrelenting CIA agent, whose portrayal, while heroic, sometimes seems unbelievable in the professional/government world.  Her dialog with superiors feels unrealistic and might have well had her fired. Whether it is accurate to the word, I am doubtful. But the details of she helps to catches the mastermind terrorist and works to have action taken on the target- this feels vivid and real. The ensuing operation to finally take down Usama bin Laden also feels believable and is certainly engaging and human.

But, I am guessing the big "talking point" of this film be none of those things. Likely the big controversy will be over detainee torture methods, and the film's point of its effectiveness, will be the loud screaming topic from the follow-on conversation for this film. Even if just for that, it is an excellent film to see. You will likely not leave without an opinion.

For parents, this movie should be reserved for children that are 16 and over. While the action is haunting and violent (targets are shot to be killed, without being offering any surrender), it is the scenes of prisoner torture that are most gruesome and degrading. Parents should heed the movie's MPAA "R" rating. 


Amazon DVD Link:


Review by Kim Gentes

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