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Movie Review: 'Zero Dark Thirty' a 'Cool, Outwardly Nonpartisan' Detective Story

Controversial movie tells the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

"Zero Dark Thirty" was generating controversy long before it hit the movie theatres 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. - Mick LaSalle, May San Antonio.com
“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
... 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

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