Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow traces the hunt for Osama bin Laden in this satisfying revenge thriller. Collaborating again with investigative journalist/screenwriter Mark Boal, Bigelow not only matches but exceeds the tension and suspense she generated with "The Hurt Locker" (2009).
Realizing that the outcome is now part of 21st-century history, Bigelow and Boal concentrate on the arduous process of tracking down the elusive leader of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. That's how this dense docudrama begins -- with a dark screen and emotional sound-bites of phone
calls from terrified people trapped in the Twin Towers that morning.
Two years later in Pakistan, a nephew of bin Laden has been captured, brutally interrogated and sexually humiliated. A single-minded CIA analyst -- simply called Maya (Jessica Chastain) -- is working on the case, patiently gathering and diligently collating scraps of information from various sources. Gradually, she becomes convinced that, contrary to the opinion of the dismissive men who outrank her, bin Laden is not hiding in a cave somewhere in the hills. Instead, he has taken refuge with his extended family in a suburban compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he can continue to mastermind al-Qaeda operations. Although no one else is as totally persuaded of his location as she is, including top-level Washington operatives, her unwavering determination prevails in the decision-making process. The title is military jargon for 12:30 a.m. -- the precise time of the Navy SEALS' raid on that compound on May 2, 2011. "Kill bin Laden for me," Maya tells them.
The outcome of that venture has been previously documented in Matt Bissonnette's best-seller "No Easy Day" and the SEALS' endorsed film "Act of Valor." Nevertheless, Bigelow's eerie, intricate rendition is provocative and powerful. Chastain's understated performance is outstanding, and she's ably supported by Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez, Mark Strong, Chris Platt, Mark Duplass and James Gandolfini.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Zero Dark Thirty" is an uncompromising, intense 10, packed with naturalistic authenticity.