Zero Dark Thirty

MPAA Rating: R

Entertainment: +4

Content: -4

Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, and Jason Clarke head a gifted cast. Action/drama. Written by Mark Boal. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

FILM SYNOPSIS: For a decade, an elite team of intelligence and military operatives, working in secret across the globe, devoted themselves to a single goal: to find and eliminate Osama bin Laden. This film chronicles the hunt and killing of the terrorist in May 2011. Considered by many critics to be the best “manhunt” movie ever made, most viewers will feel they are getting a perceptive look at how the military and the CIA function – and why. Perhaps the message will be sent that America will fight dirty if the enemy makes us.

PREVIEW REVIEW: Certainly there is enough R-rated material to last you the rest of your movie-going years, but along with the crude and abrasive obscenity, there are also great rifts of intelligent dialogue that both clarify and mesmerize. It is a war film, so expect graphic, realistic bloodshed. It is also a “spy” movie where Intelligence folks hurt people in order to get info. Even if you’re for water boarding, still it’s difficult to view, especially in the name of entertainment.

It can’t be argued that the assembling of this film is magnificent. Director Kathryn Bigelow (Oscar winner for The Hurt Locker) knows how to construct a movie in a way that places us within the action. She tastefully reenacts 9/11 by way of audio recordings with a blank screen as background. This may be one of the most powerful “images” ever put on film. Sometimes a visual is worth a thousand words, but sitting there in the dark, the blank screen serves to ignite our imagination and our memory as we hear the horror that changed the modern world.

The editing by William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor is truly superb, keeping the pacing active and generating and maintaining an intensity throughout. For that matter, no technical tools (lighting, set design, sound effects, etc.) go wasted.

A very well-acted film, with Jessica Chastain (The Help, The Tree of Life, Take Shelter) once again lighting up the screen. An actress of great dimension and charisma, Ms. Chastain here gives us a smart, tough character who reveals vulnerability despite an attempt to cover it up. Forevermore, from here on, Ms. Chastain won’t be thought of as merely a good actress. She just proved she has star quality.

If you are hoping Hollywood will present such a story within a PG context, forget it. Those days are long gone. And I want to be clear, I think there is a time and place for graphic R material (except the profane use of God’s name – I can’t justify that for the sake of entertainment). The in-your-face content drives home the unnerving reality of our present-day world. As with United 93, I didn’t find the R content exploitive, but used to emphasize the reality of doing battle with evil that masks itself as righteousness.

To my great surprise, I didn’t find the film used to make a political statement. Rather, it reveals the determination of people whose ultimate goal is to protect America from the next attack. Nor is it a morality tale. Acts committed to protect are not done from a right or wrong viewpoint, but from a practical one. Our protectors are not painted as sadistic warmongers, or as flag-wavers, but simply as professionals committed to getting the job done.

A long, sometimes nonlinear film, Zero Dark Thirty is a magnificent production that realizes the darkness that surrounds us. How awful it must be for those who have no faith that God is ultimately in charge.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Sony Pictures Releasing

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: None

Obscene Language: Around 65 obscenities, mostly the f-word.

Profanity: One profane use of God’s name.

Violence: Extended scenes of water torture and other abuses against captured terrorists to gain information; a great deal of wartime bloodshed that includes several jolting explosions. Lots of blood.

Sex: None

Nudity: A prisoner has his pants pulled down, we see him from behind; he has soiled himself.

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: None

Drugs: Some smoking and drinking.

Other: None

Running Time: 157 minutes
Intended Audience: Adults

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