Whether Zero Dark Thirty accurately portrays the hunt for Osama bin Laden or not, it succeeds in large part due its realism and apparent
authenticity.

Director Kathryn Bigelow masterfully balances plot and character; thrills and emotion.

At the center of the notorious manhunt is Jessica Chastain’s Maya, an ambitious CIA operative whose life is totally consumed by her
objective.  She has no friends, virtually nonexistent people skills and calling her work an obsession is an understatement.

Chastain is excellent, presenting Maya as a strong-willed, but likable loner.  The contrast between her determination and vulnerability is
exceptionally well-realized in her performance and in her conception.

Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal never force the character in directions that don’t serve the immediate story.  There’s no romantic
subplot and despite the inherent sexism of being a woman in a traditionally male game, the film, like its central character, never strays from
the mission.

The subtle development of Maya is fascinating.  I don’t think I’m spoiling too much in saying that the operation succeeds.  And when it does,
her silent sense of loss is palpable.

Even aside from the character, Zero Dark Thirty is a fascinating thriller.

There are a couple disturbing torture sequences early on and, once again, Bigelow handles them perfectly.  In the hands of a lesser
director these would be accompanied by a preachy social message.  Here Bigelow simply presents them for what they are.  You can make
your own decisions about the moral issues.

Bigelow’s direction is cinéma vérité, delivering realism with a subtle style that never draws attention and fits the subject matter to
perfection.

The film’s raw visual power is fully realized in the show-stopping raid on bin Laden’s compound, a breathless sequence presented with
authenticity and intensity.

It’s here that Zero Dark Thirty pulls off its most impressive feat.  Despite the real world emotions many of us inherently have towards the
subject matter, the climax becomes just as much about vindicating Maya’s work as it is about revenge or justice being served.

We want the operation to succeed not just because of the various terror attacks highlighted in the film, but because we want to see all the
risks taken and all the hard work pay off for our protagonist.

Zero Dark Thirty is a masterful thriller that perfectly melds character drama and gripping storytelling.  It culminates in an incredible, night
vision-lit finale that resonates on multiple levels.  The work of Bigelow and Chastain is superb; a great tribute to the incredible work and
dedication that went into taking down the most infamous villain of an era.

* * * *
(out of four)
ZERO DARK THIRTY
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Written by: Mark Boal

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton,
Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler

Music by: Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography by: Greig Fraser

Released: January 11, 2013; 157 Minutes