The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Zero Dark Thirty | Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, James Gandolfini, Joel Edgerton | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Zero Dark Thirty | Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, James Gandolfini, Joel Edgerton | Review


Director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) covers familiar ground in her latest effort, focusing on the 10-year mission to find and kill Osama bin Laden.

Beginning with sobering audio cell phone transmissions from those trapped in the twin towers on 9/11, the film follows U.S. international intelligence and military operatives, including rookie CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she learns the ropes and the “game” of suspect capture, information extraction, GPS tracking, and raid planning.

Fellow operative Dan (Jason Clarke) urges her to watch the water boarding and subsequent humiliation of an al Qaeda suspect. While her discomfort is apparent, her resolve is not, especially after her friend Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) is killed during a connected mission in an ambush.

To find bin Laden, Maya must locate and capture his main courier, Abu Ahmed (Tushaar Mehra) an intricate, frustrating endeavor that puts lives on the line each time an attempt is made. As a young female in a testosterone-filled hierarchy, she must also convince a succession of male superiors (Kyle Chandler, James Gandolfini) and Navy SEALs (Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt) that her instincts are sound.

The decade-long effort, full of false information, close calls, bombings, and dubious interrogation practices ultimately leads to the raid on May 1, 2011 as the culmination of their man-hunt. It’s a long journey which makes for a long film (157 minutes).

Zero Dark Thirty is military slang for a very late - or very early - time of the day; an unspecified time between midnight and dawn. In a dangerous world of intercepted intelligence, that’s as precise a time as operatives will allow for in the planning and execution, literally here, of such a crucial event.

Chastain’s Maya is a smart, dangerous weapon herself, full of observation and strategy. Chandler has a thankless but effective role of bureaucrat, and Clarke morphs from on-site interrogation expert to play-it-safe desk job – and back again when necessary. The large cast works together as a mosaic through which the intricate, multi-level (and layer) big picture emerges.

Director-producer Kathryn Bigelow and writer-producer Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) reteam to unfold the tense saga, based on the experiences of an actual operative, recruited by the CIA as a 19-year old. The unsentimental, matter-of-fact, informational style of the film lays it out for the viewer. Finding and fighting terrorists is dangerous; people die. The weak need not apply.

Final raid sequences, shot room by room, utilize night vision technology just as the SEALs did. The result is a taut, swift-moving operation with little wasted motion and precision teamwork – and this despite a U.S. helicopter crash right outside.

The sheer scope of the film is impressive, and the logistics, manpower, equipment, expertise, and research needed must have been immense.

My hat is off to Kathryn Bigelow. The Academy could have at least tipped theirs.

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