ZERO DARK THIRTY
Running Time: 2 hours 37 minutes
Premise: The decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden is on after 9/11, and CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) is determined to find him, to the exclusion of everything else in her life.
Behind-the-Scenes: Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal previously collaborated, with each winning Oscars, on 2009's The Hurt Locker. The two set out to chronicle the hunt for Bin Laden before he was killed during production. Real life gave them a better ending, and they had to revise the script accordingly.
The Good: In many ways, Zero Dark Thirty reminded me of David Fincher's Zodiac. It's a smart, expertly executed and slow-burning procedural. It ratchets up the tension in small, but explosive doses. It takes an emotionally cool, clearheaded, just-the-facts approach to the material, eschewing any hint of viewer manipulation or political posturing. And it culminates in a nail-biting action sequence that ranks among the best of the year. The movie really casts a spell on the viewer, and touches upon all facets of the Bin Laden manhunt. In many ways, this would make the perfect sequel to Paul Greengrass' United 93. That film ended on a note of despair, befitting of its 9/11 subject matter. Zero Dark Thirty provides the resolution. It's the Aliens to United 93's Alien. Bigelow shows real command of her craft here, in a way that's almost more impressive than her Oscar-winning work in The Hurt Locker. Boal's script is nicely condensed and focused, jumping ahead in chronology at just the right moments. The supporting performances are great - and it's a kick to see actors like Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, James Gandolfini, Mark Duplass, Mark Strong, and Kyle Chandler pop in and out throughout the movie.
The Bad: Jessica Chastain's Maya is given almost no character development, to the movie's detriment, and while Chastain is good in the role and nails two brilliant scenes of dialogue ("I'm the motherfucker who found this place, sir"), any other actress could have played her. The ending doesn't achieve the emotional impact it should.
Should You See It?: Yes, definitely. Of the likely Best Picture nominees, Argo still gets my pick, but this is a close second.
Rating: **** out of 5 stars.