Movie Review: The Greatest Manhunt in History

In the wake of the September 11th attacks there have been dozens of movies made dealing with the homefront aftermath of the events, the multiple wars conducted in the name of freedom and countless theories as to how we became a target and got involved in what seems to be endless war with people that may or may not even exist half-way around the world. Most of these films are poorly done, jingoist fodder and usually forgotten a few weeks after their release.

Most of these films are poorly done, jingoist fodder and usually forgotten a few weeks after their release.

The exception to this is director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal’s two films dealing with the war on terror, 2009’s The Hurt Locker and 2012’s outstanding Zero Dark Thirty. Billed as “the story of history’s greatest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous man,” Zero Dark Thirty is an unbelievably realistic portrayal of the decade long search and ultimate killing of Osama Bin Laden.

The film stars Jessica Chastain as Maya, a dedicated CIA special agent assigned to the Middle East to assist with prisoner interrogations and cyphering through mounds of false leads to find the clues necessary to locate Bin Laden. Since her breakout year in 2011 where she starred in no less than seven different productions (and earning an Oscar nomination for The Help), Chastain has been a force to be reckoned with in motion pictures and she is nothing short of astonishing in this role. While watching her performance I couldn’t help but think of other strong, powerful female portrayals in past films like Sigourney Weavers in Aliens and Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs. While Jennifer Lawrence will probably win the Academy Award for Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, Chastain deserves it more.

Zero Dark Thirty has undergone a series of attacks and has been the subject of some controversy in its depiction of torture and how the filmmakers obtained much of the information depicted onscreen (Bigelow and Boal even had to testify at a congressional hearing on the subject). One wonders if the big to-do is linked to the fact that the movie paints too accurate a portrayal that makes the United States government, the CIA and particularly the Bush administration appear utterly immoral. The film is also under fire for its supposed pro-torture stance, which is ludicrous for anyone who has actually seen the picture. Bigelow makes quite clear the information used to track Bin Laden was not gained through torture, but from a back log of files piled up since the 9-11 attacks.

Zero Dark Thirty is not a piece of entertainment, though it has some absolutely suspenseful, tense moments, but it nothing short of a masterpiece; a work of riveting documentary-like filmmaking, a triumph for Bigelow and Boal, and the most important, and best, film of 2012.

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