Zero Dark Thirty ***½ ( R) It’s hard to imagine we’d get two top-notch action thrillers based on real events of global import in one year. But this account of the years of intelligence work that led to our finding and killing Osama Bin Laden follows Argo’s Oscar-worthy telling of a side story to the Iran hostage crisis of the late 1970s. Kathryn Bigelow follows her 2008 homage to soldiers who served in Iraq, The Hurt Locker, with another stellar directing turn. This one may not also win six Oscars, but it will contend for several.
The story plays out somewhat like an extended episode of the hit Showtime series Homeland, with one determined CIA agent (Jessica Chastain) spearheading the hunt for over a decade - before and after 9/11 - even when political and military priorities around her shifted elsewhere. Even before opening, the film has its devotees and detractors for many reasons. The depiction of torture and results are already causing plenty of controversy over historical accuracy and questions about Bigelow’s sources. The extent to which one person may have been so essential to the development and execution of the mission will also raise speculation about whether other key players were slighted in pursuit of narrative efficiency.
Like Argo, even though we know the outcome, the film keeps us riveted to our seats, and seems shorter than its 2+ hour running time. Both help us appreciate the complexities and dangers of intelligence gathering and deciding how to act on what is known or believed. As to the nitpickers, neither is intended to be a documentary. Some of the facts are still classified, and further liberties are part of dramatizing any historical events to make them comprehensible and entertaining. (1/11/13)