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Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty

A blunt example of American intelligence abroad, lands Kathryn Bigelow another Oscar hopeful.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Olley and Columbia Pictures Industries

January 11, 2013 | 8:09 p.m. CST

You’ve been asked these questions before. Where were you when the twin towers fell? Where were you when Osama bin Laden was killed? These two distinct moments, separated by almost 10 years, are etched into America’s memory. But some might not recall the years of violence, doubt and frustration that fell between those two moments. The decade when the world’s most wanted man was a ghost.

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty opens with the begging cries of the helpless during 9/11 and closes with the slow zip of a body bag, but it’s the journey in between that makes this film unforgettable.

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Zero Dark Thirty, which is spy jargon meaning half past midnight, follows the obsessed Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she hunts for Osama bin Laden — a hunt that creates a whirlwind of torture and violence along the way. The acting efforts of Chastain, as well as Jason Clarke (Dan) and Kyle Chandler (Joseph Bradley), make the film gritty and believable, a welcome relief from CGI, hyper-masculine action dramas. Bigelow and Mark Boal once again create cinema magic as Zero Dark Thirty winds through the dark and controversial corridors of America’s torture policy and the lengths American intelligence is willing to go for the life of one man.

The film has already faced a list of allegations, with some arguing that Bigelow subtly promotes torture. To be sure, the film’s first thirty minutes captures American torture practices in gruesome detail, but to describe Bigelow’s espionage drama as pro-torture undermines the complexity of each character. It forgets how a shuddering Maya learns to deal with the bitter realism of how the world really works and ignores the psychological torture that is endured by its practitioners.

Zero Dark Thirty is a slow burn that takes more than two-and-a-half hours to extinguish, but with thrilling sequences littered throughout, even fans of the more sharped-dressed, martini-swirling forms of espionage will be entertained.

With great acting, directing and writing, Zero Dark Thirty achieves its goal of capturing the long, painful decade of hunting a ghost, of trying to put a salve on the festering wound that the twin towers left behind. Whether the ends justify the means, that’s for the audience to decide.

Vox Rating: V V V V

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