Rated: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

I'm not your friend. I'm not gonna help you. I'm gonna break you.

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While post-9/11 cinema can refer to all films written, produced and released during the time period directly after the infamous event, there are also is a unique sub-genre of films that either deal directly with the terrorist attacks or feature elements influenced indirectly by it. Movies of this “Post-9/11-Realist” sub-genre are often characterized by darker tones, utilizing suspense as a plot device, and having an emphasis on realism. Physically these movies are often told from a documentary or first-person perspective, characterized by hand-held cameras and the use of historic footage or media coverage.

Zero Dark Thirty may be too late to be included in the first category, but it clearly belongs in the second. Furthermore, although it isn’t necessarily interested in describing what everyday life was like during this period, it does a fantastic job of summarizing the emotional tone and stressfulness of this period. That, combined with Katherine Bigelow’s technical expertise at handling “Post-9/11-Realist” cinema, makes a strong case for this to be the definitive film of the contemporary era. The film pushes forward relentlessly, reminding us of what happened in the past but not dwelling there. In doing so, the film ends not on a retrospective note looking back on what we’ve been through, but looking forward to what’s next.

This is a film that will come to define a specific in history. While there is controversy over the exact details and truthfulness of the story it spins, the bigger picture that it presents to its audience is what really matters. This isn’t meant to be a retelling of facts with a cinematic flair. Those movies, like Lincoln, take years of research and preparation to pull off. Zero Dark Thirty has been released only 20 months after the events depicted took place. This is a fictionalization. The importance is how the film feels. That, more than accurate facts and faces, is what will allow future generations to watch this film and understand what it was like to live in this time.

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Story: Maya is a CIA agent and her job is to use intelligence she’s gathered to hunt down Osama Bin Laden. The film starts as she takes part in a prisoner interrogation, in order to forcefully obtain the information she needs. Initially she only has her knowledge of terrorist organizations, her intuition and scraps of information. When the government starts to crack down on using torture as an information gathering technique, Maya and her fellow operatives are forced to use their intuition more and more. Although we all know that her efforts pay off, we were unaware of the sacrifices and lucky guesses that it took. Good (8.8/10)

Acting: Jessica Chastain excels in the biggest role of her career so far, and she is definitely worthy of the Oscar nomination she received. While the role is not necessarily emotionally demanding in the traditional sense, the trials and tribulations that her character faces throughout the course of the film require a strong performance and Chastain delivers. The supporting cast is also very good, but all the other characters seem to appear and disappear without much ado as time skips forward. This makes some of the characters one-dimensional but it doesn’t hurt the movie, because it moves forward at a brisk pace. The supporting cast includes Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, and Jennifer Ehle. Good (9.5/10)

Direction: Katherine Bigelow picks up right where she left off with The Hurt Locker. It’s not necessarily something new or radically different from her, but that doesn’t necessarily harm the film. The best part of the movie is the way it ends. Bigelow’s execution and vision are fantastic, making the last 20 minutes of the film pure cinematic gold. This is not only wonderful because it ends the film on a high note, but since we already know how the story ends, Bigelow makes us want to watch it. To be honest, the story is difficult to capture in film format due to the large span of time over which it takes place. Although the film feels like it skips around because of this, Bigelow nonetheless manages to handle it well and smooths over the transitions. To her credit, the entire film has terrific pace, and that makes it possibly one of the most riveting movies ever made.  Good (9.3/10) 

Special Effects/X-Factor: Visually, the film’s best moments are during the climax when the movie depicts the compound raid. The perspective during this sequence alternates between 3rd person and 1st person, allowing the audience to look through the eyes of the Navy SEALS as they carry out the mission. Not only is this a very cool visual trick, it also makes the sequence feel more realistic. This isn’t an action movie; this is how it would have been in real life, and in many ways, that makes it more exciting. Overall, Zero Dark Thirty isn’t as monumental an achievement as The Hurt Locker was, but it is nonetheless competent in what it does. Say what you will about the film’s more controversial elements (the torture scenes), the movie manages at least to make it clear that the capture of Osama Bin Laden was an immensely demanding and ruthlessly relentless undertaking. The fact that the film manages to take that emotional weight and transform it into an exciting movie experience should also not be taken lightly. Good (8.7/10)

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Rating: (9.1/10) = A (A Historic Achievement)

·         What’s Good: Jessica Chastain puts on the best performance of her career so far, and Bigelow’s competent direction manages to handle the complicated plot. Despite the audience knowing how it ends, the story moves with masterful suspense, excitement, and drama that only keeps getting better until the final nail-biting climax.

·         What’s Bad: The highly technical details and hap-hazard pacing can be tedious. Questions and controversy will arise about the film’s accuracy and how it handles the torture scenes.

Verdict: Spy thrillers are rarely this thrilling. 

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