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'Zero Dark Thirty' Seamlessly Weaves Fact with Fiction

“Zero Dark Thirty” chronicles a long trail of frustration, leading to fragmentary gains and, at last, to success, on the night of May 1, 2011

"Zero Dark Thirty" was generating controversy long before it hit the movie theaters nationwide on Friday.

Director-producer Kathryn Bigelow and writer-producer Mark Boal were criticized for showing CIA agents torturing inmates information leading to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. The movie claims to be factual, and the CIA insists that torture wasn't part of the mix. Bigelow and Boal also were thought to have allegedly obtained classified information, which they claim they didn't do.

The movie follows a CIA female operative, Maya (Jessica Chastain), over the 10 years the U.S. hunted for Osama Bin Laden. She survives bombings and attacks, pouring over her computer and trying to assemble a coherent argument about Bin Laden's whereabouts. We know the end of the story: she did.

Here's what the critics are saying:

Yet more essential, at least for this discussion, is that “Zero Dark Thirty” is also one of the most innovative and best-made films of the past year. Every now and then, even Dick Cheney gets to like a great movie. Like Bigelow's Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty” has a measured but jittery pace, a pulse to the camera work that creates the sense of seeing the world through the eyes of someone methodical, observant and tense. The eye hovers, takes in every detail and expects the worst. Bigelow has an ability that few filmmakers have, one that Hitchcock had — the ability to make an audience nervous even when nothing bad is happening.--M ick LaSalle, May San Antonio.com

But most of the movie is about American defeat—the failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, as Al Qaeda pulls off attacks in Saudi Arabia, Britain, and Pakistan. “Zero Dark Thirty” chronicles a long trail of frustration, leading to fragmentary gains and, at last, to success, on the night of May 1, 2011: Operation Neptune’s Spear, a Navy SEALs siege of bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, which is so perfectly executed that it almost defies normal skepticism about the way life works. The virtue of “Zero Dark Thirty,” however, is that it pays close attention to the way life does work; it combines ruthlessness and humanity in a manner that is paradoxical and disconcerting yet satisfying as art. David Denby, The New Yorker


I'm torn about considering it a great movie, though, and even more hesitant to say that it is successful thematically. The film's best moments may be its last few seconds, which wrenchingly bring light to Maya as a character, but if it can't resonate until it's over, is it working a piece of a cinema? Zero Dark Thirty is a virtuosic display of skill from Bigelow, and features excellent performances from all of its actors. I recommend that you go see it, and I encourage you to enjoy it. But I'm not sure that Zero, even as a film more technically and artistically compelling than The Hurt Locker, manages to exceed the latter in electrifying power. --Rachel Wilson, Policymic


It's frankly incredible that, in the middle of such a complicated story, Zero Dark Thirty presents such a complex character in Maya, a tough woman in an impossible job who sidesteps every imaginable possible cliche. Everything about her, from the way she wears a scarf over her head when interrogating a detainee to the false smiles she gives to put powerful men at ease, speaks to her unusual position as a woman in the Middle East, but that contrast never becomes text, just another fascinating layer in a story with no simple conclusions. Not all of the characters around her are equally as complex-- Chris Pratt, Harold Perrineau and Joel Edgerton are just a few of the big names who are gone as soon as they arrive-- but Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler, James Gandolfini and especially Clarke all make their impact, though all somewhat overshadowed by the powerhouse that is Chastian. Like the woman at its center, Zero Dark Thirty exudes a constant, quiet confidence, telling a story with an ending we all know and making it feel thrilling, suspenseful, and completely vital.-- Katey Rich, Cinemablend.com


A seamless weave of truth and drama, "Zero Dark Thirty" tracks the long, twisted road to Bin Laden's capture, beginning on Sept. 11 and ending a decade later at another conflagration, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Wight a script by Mark Boal, who wrote "The Hurt Locker," Ms. Bigelow’s last feature, this new movie is a cool, outwardly nonpartisan intelligence procedural — a detective story of sorts — in which a mass murderer is tracked down by people who spend a lot of time staring into computer screens and occasionally working in the field. It is also a wrenchingly sad, soul-shaking story about revenge and its moral costs, which makes it the most important American fiction movie about Sept. 11, a landmark that would be more impressive if there were more such films to choose from. -- Manohla Dargis, New York Times


"Zero Dark Thirty" is rated R for violence and language. It runs 2 hours and 37 minutes. In addition to Jessica Chastain, the movie stars Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler, and Mark Strong. The movie is showing at Beechwood Stadium Cinemas 11 and at Carmike Cinemas 12.

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