Zero Dark Thirty
dir Kathryn Bigelow
scr Mark Boal
prd Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Megan Ellison
with Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini, Stephen Dillane, Chris Pratt, Joel Edgerton, Mark Duplass, Harold Perrineau, John Barrowman
release US 19.Dec.12, UK 25.Jan.13
12/US Columbia 2h37
Zero Dark Thirty
Who's the boss: Chandler and Chastain

ehle strong gandolfini
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Zero Dark Thirty It's difficult to tell whether this film is celebrating or criticising 10 years of illegal American activity abroad. Certainly the characters are all true believers, only occasionally worrying whether their methods cross a line. Whether you agree with them will determine if you accept the film.

Since the events of 9/11, CIA analyst Maya (Chastain) and her colleague Dan (Clarke) have been searching for intelligence about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. And they have a prisoner in Pakistan who clearly knows something. Following a string of clues, they mobilise their team (including Ehle and Perrineau) under the leadership of their superiors (Chandler and Strong), the CIA director (Gandolfini) and the national security advisor (Dillane). And finally they get the go-ahead to send a crack team into bin Laden's suspected hideout.

Bigelow and Boal assemble this film in a journalistic way that refuses to take sides, so your attitude going in will inform your response. If you believe that anything is permissible in the war on terror, then the film might fill you with pride at the tenacious work of these smart, fearless operatives. If you think torture can never be justified, and that the death of innocent civilians diminishes any cause, the film is much more troubling.

This duality is effective because the film is skilfully shot and edited with a growing urgency that either draws us in or drags us along. Each cast member delivers a raw performance that feels almost uncomfortably honest. There are moments when they briefly doubt the violent nature of their work, but they forge ahead because they believe in their cause. Chastain holds the film together with a beautiful combination of steely assurance and shaded fragility. And the other standout in the ensemble is Ehle, whose gung-ho optimism has two sides.

This attention to personal detail makes the film important, especially since it provokes a response without telling us what to think. But the unquestioning approach is an affront to anyone with a compassionate worldview. And while it does play around with our opinions, the script is in need of a sense of America's real place in the world's political landscape. Because all we see here is the story of true believers who are just as fanatical as the people they're chasing. But maybe that's the filmmakers' point.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 8.Dec.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall