*** ½out of four
by David Vicari
Zero Dark Thirty, which means "half past midnight" in spy talk, is about the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden following the September 2001 attacks on America. This is a riveting chase picture from director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, the team that made the Oscar winning The Hurt Locker.
Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a young CIA operative who is, at first, taken aback by the brutal tactics applied to detainees to extract vital information. She eventually becomes obsessed with tracking down bin Laden at all costs.
The film plays like a procedural, as well as a character study of sorts on Chastain's character. Once again, Chastain (The Help, Lawless, The Tree of Life), who is one of our finest actresses working today, delivers a remarkable and sturdy central performance. She is matched by Jason Clarke as a chief interrogator. There scenes together are terrific, so it's a slight disappointment when Clarke's character takes a back seat in the latter part of the movie.
Because Zero Dark Thirty is based on fact, there is undeniably some predictability about it, but Bigelow directs the hell out of this thing, keeping your attention glued to the screen. You know it's a good film when it seems to fly by even though it has a running time of 157 minutes.