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IN SHORT: Like the slow burn on a fireworks fuse, the finale is brilliant. [Rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language. 157 minutes]
Director Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty slaps a cinematic period to the terrorist story of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the attacks on New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon in DC and the failure of the United Flight 93 hijacking. One of the trade magazines has labeled the films that have come before this one to be "commercially toxic" -- meaning that we get our fill of 9/11 every September and that audiences have not wanted to pay hard earned money for cinematic visions of different aspects of the attacks. So we will write this review from a different angle . . .
Cranky is a New Yorker. Had the World Trade Center attack occurred four hours later on 9/11, we would have lost friends and family. We were lucky. Then the president, an oil man with money ties to Saudi Arabia seemed to do nothing to find the murderers, who just happen to have relations in Saudi Arabia.
Until now, if you had told us that the US government was not sitting on its hands in regards to the attacks, we would have called you a liar. Until now. Screenwriter Mark Roal's work, if we are to believe the notes, was as deeply researched as you can get. [Zero Dark Thirty squeezes the historical record from the terrorist attack on New York's World Trade Center on 9/11 (01) through the May 2011 Pakistan raid during which Seal Team Six put Osama Bin Laden into his well deserved hell.
We have our own opinions as to why it took so long to find and kill "UBL" (somewhere along the line the spelling of his name changed from Osama to Usama) but, it turns out, the government didn't drop the ball. It just went looking to play on the wrong court. The film's setup, which begins with a mere mention of the attack and moves on from there, takes its sweet time to play out but the restaging of the attack is edge of the seat riveting.
Told in a documentary style that focusses its story on a CIA newbie named Maya (Jessica Chastain), whose first assignment is to find the terrorists behind the WTC attack. Partnered with another CIA agent (Jennifer Ehle) the pair slog through a seeming growth of disinterest in the case on the part of our government, even as al Quaeda ramps up bombing operations in Africa and across the Mediterranean and out in to the wild countries whose names end in suffixes like "'stan"
Finding Bin Laden and avenging his crimes remains her assignment, and obsession, long after the rest of the government (seems to) lose interest. Zero Dark Thirty does not hold back in its early scenes of waterboarding and other humiliating techniques used by code named CIA operatives. [I think it is Chris Pratt doing the initial interrogations/waterboarding of a money courier]. James Gandolfini does a fine turn as the CIA's director who kicks a wee bit of life into the dead horse that is the non-revenge portion of the movie.
But those last forty minutes will have most every American sitting on the edge of their movie theater seat. That's good enough for us.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Zero Dark Thirty, he would have paid . . .
Zero Dark Thirty, if Oscar follows the thinking of the critics groups we belong to, will take the statue in February. We prefer the thrill of escape (as seen in Argo) to the joy of execution.
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