Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Maya on the hunt.

Maya on the hunt.

I remember that night. I was in the Upson B7 computer lab struggling to get a MATLAB project completed for MAE 2120: Mechanical Properties and the Selection of Engineering Materials when I saw the news of the killing of Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attack that more or less defined US history for the second half of my life.

Kathryn Bigelow dramatized what could very well have been the greatest manhunt in history by following CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) and her 10-year chase after bin Laden.

I have not seen Bigelow’s earlier The Hurt Locker. However, I have heard it to widely be considered the worst movie to have ever won the Academy Award for Best Picture. I was a little skeptical, but I gave Zero Dark Thirty a fair chance.

Whatever the CIA may say about Zero Dark Thirty about overemphasizing the role of torturing suspected Al-Qaeda members, it is a more realistic look at how spying works than something like Skyfall as it does set out to be a dramatization of true events. The CIA got leads, lost them, only to find more leads. Maya is convinced that her hunches are right, even if nobody else is. The Agency’s information is, as an officer put it, a “clusterf*ck”. The hunt stood in stark contrast with the last half an hour of the movie, depicting the cold, calculated efficiency of the Navy SEALs in their operation in bin Laden’s hideout.

Character development was a little thin, perhaps intentionally so as CIA agents are supposed to be nobody, literally. We never even know Maya’s last name, much less anything else about her. All we do know is her obsession with bringing down bin Laden. Despite that, the movie never once felt like it outstayed its welcome, even with a 2-1/2 hour runtime. Overall, the movie was beautifully shot, and I could hear why the movie so rightly won its Oscar in sound editing.

While it was a contender for 2012’s Best Picture Oscar, it’s not about to displace Django Unchained as the best movie of 2012 I have seen. However, I will say the movie was still very good. Even if you have your doubts from Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and its reputation, Zero Dark Thirty is definitely a spy thriller done right.

Score: 3.5/4

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