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Zero Dark Thirty Movie Review

In the years since 9/11, Osama bin Laden has become a figure of mythic proportions. And it's hard to kill a myth. When, in May of last year, SEAL Team Six did just that, the subsequent account of the details behind their clandestine operation instantly screamed "Hollywood Blockbuster". The midnight raid, the downed chopper, the night-vision goggles. Consequently, there are now not one but two films made about that historic mission. "Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden", directed by John Stockwell, went straight to the National Geographic channel just days before the presidential election, while Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" gets a December theatrical release in time for Oscar season.

"Zero" aims to tell the story of the events post-9/11 (the film opens on that fateful day with the audio of a heartwrenching phone call) that led to the raid in Abbottabad. The central character in the painstakingly researched script, by Mark Boal, is Maya (Jessica Chastain). Maya didn't really exist, though she's based on several real people. In the film, Maya is indoctrinated into the ways of interrogation that eventually uncover the name of a courier who becomes the key to finding bin Laden's hideout.

These extreme interrogation techniques are shown unflinchingly in the film's effective opening scenes. From there, "Zero" jumps across years and locations as Maya remains the sole operative, focused with unwavering attention on finding and killing bin Laden. Literally, that's all she does. Maya has little in the way of character and only a smattering more in the way of motivation. It's ironic that, being an amalgam of multiple personalities, she has ended up with so little. The omnipresent Ms. Chastain steels her jaw, grits her teeth and does a fine job with her character's singular focus, but she would have been capable of much more had the script allowed her more than the occasional "action hero" bon mot ("I'm the motherf-----r that found him").

The same could be said for the film itself. The story is taken from multiple first person accounts but somehow never gets deep enough. The leaps forward in time leave crucial details aside, and the final (excellently done) raid is good enough to make you wish it were the whole film.

Ms. Bigelow has become an A-list director (she's come a long way since "Near Dark" and "Point Break") and here she employs the same low-to-the-ground realism that made "The Hurt Locker" such a visceral film. She deftly juggles her extensive cast and varied locations - though those without a deep familiarity of the events will occasionally be in the dark. But that same familiarity is a curse to the film.

It's certainly possible to create a suspenseful film with a known outcome (see "Apollo 13"), but by adhering so closely to the events without injecting any unique characters or POV, "Zero Dark Thirty" becomes little more than a dramatization. Where "The Hurt Locker" was all suspense, "Dark Thirty" has almost, well, zero.


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