Kathryn Bigelow may have failed to land an Oscar nod this year, but the director still scores with “Zero Dark Thirty,” a riveting, modern war epic charting the 10-year quest to catch (and kill) Osama bin Laden. It’s rare to see a film about recent headlines that’s this stirringly comprehensive.
Bigelow and her team (including Mark Boal, the screenwriter who penned her last triumph, “The Hurt Locker”), were reportedly granted access to classified federal documents, giving them exclusive insight into this all-too resonant tale. At nearly three hours, the movie takes you from post-9/11 unease to the killshot heard ’round the world, and it’s a big, tough, enveloping film experience.
At the center of it is comely starlet Jessica Chastain, who plays hard-nosed CIA agent Maya, a woman who’s devoted her professional life to bin Laden’s capture. As Chastain stated when nabbing a Golden Globe for her efforts, Maya is a stand-in for Bigelow herself, emerging as a titan in a male-dominated discipline, and, in many ways, showing others how it’s done. “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t have the same white-knuckle suspense as “The Hurt Locker,” but it feels both larger and more personal, its plucky heroine no doubt reflecting more of Bigelow’s sensibilities.
Bigelow’s taken some heat for her depiction of torture, as Maya and her partner, Dan (Jason Clarke), resort to tough tactics to gain answers, but more than anything, what Bigelow offers is her brand of unflinching honesty, less political than frank and forthright. The approach also is present in the director’s aesthetic, which often succeeds in dropping you square into the action, be it set in a board room or a desert.
Like so many awards-season contenders, “Zero Dark Thirty” was cloaked in secrecy for months, with details kept quiet right down to its time of release. For once, the climbing anticipation is justified, as this is a movie that tosses in common ingredients, and yet refuses to compromise. It’s a film that may well have achieved its goal of being the definitive narrative account of a momentous, historical saga.
Three-and-a-half reels out of four
Now playing at area theaters
Anyone looking for a maddeningly wild movie shouldn’t pass up Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy,” a bayou crime thriller more notable for its shocks than any portion of its plot.
Known in some parts as the film in which Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron’s jellyfish stings, it’s a sensationalistic romp with surprises aplenty. Co-starring Matthew McConaughey, it might be trash cinema, but it’s one of 2012’s most unforgettable flicks. ■
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