‘Zero Dark Thirty’ captivates, ace acting drives heavy content

Zero Dark Thirty will cast a long shadow over cinema this year. It is a masterful work that recounts the tale of Osama Bin Laden’s death at the hands of Seal Team Six and the CIA.

There are no hurrahs. No one finds humor or satisfaction in his death. No one laughs while detainees are tortured in an effort to track Bin Laden down. This is a film that is focused on telling a story without frills or good cheer.

The film clocks in at about 157 minutes, but the screenplay feels sparse. There is no wasted dialogue, no vanity shots. Everything at play is used in an effort to advance the story in the quickest, most efficient manner possible.

Mark Boal, the film’s writer, has done a commendable, if by the numbers, job. Zero Dark Thirty is not a film that breaks ground by being innovative and different. This is a movie that you’ve seen before: plucky heroine decides to go against the grain in her male dominated workplace.

The plucky heroine in this film just happens to be the lady who found Osama. Boal puts a new coat of paint on an old car and then winks at us as Kathryn Bigelow, the film’s director, sells it.

Tons of credit should be given to the actors. They do a wonderful job of breathing life into the characters. In particular, Jessica Chastain should be praised for a very energetic performance as Maya, the film’s protagonist. Chastain’s portrayal of Maya as a woman possessed by her need to find Bin Laden perfectly captures the mood of the US just after 9/11.

People are going to react in different ways to this movie. Its portrayal of torture has been controversial and there were moments—while watching—that I found myself wanting to look away from the screen, but because the torture looks and, more importantly, feels real I was physically unable to.

During one particularly tense scene, a member of the audience stood up and walked out of the theater; she never came back. During this same scene, another member of the audience was attacked by a fit of laughter.

Zero Dark Thirty is worthy of discussion. It’s rare that a movie so entwined in the conventions of its genre is able to stand out. This one stands out as a masterpiece.