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Billy Summers: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ could be the best movie of 2013

Jan. 20, 2013 @ 08:24 PM

In “Zero Dark Thirty,” director Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker,” “Point Break,” “Strange Days”) has once again taken us to the desert wars, and made us watch.

This time we are watching a fictionalized movie, based on fact, about the 10-year, search-and-destroy mission to find Osama Bin Laden.

Jessica Chastain (“The Help,” “Jolene,” “The Tree of Life”) stars as the C.I.A. operative, Maya, who relentlessly chases down the most dangerous terrorist in the world.

She is not a Sydney Bristow or Jack Ryan type of spy, nor is she a Joseph Turner (Robert Redford in “Three Days of the Condor”) bumbling amateur analyst. She is somewhere in between.

Bigelow makes her out to be a female with a woman’s sensitivities toward violence and torture, but also a pragmatist, who knows that to catch the dirtiest of criminals, you have to get dirty.

She is definitely the star of this movie, not only because she is excellent in her part, but because no one else here has any in-depth character development. They are all just a bunch of glorified minions.

Even Jason Clarke (“The Chicago Code,” “Lawless,” “Texas Killing Fields”) who plays C.I.A. field agent Dan, who starts out as a main character, fades into the background as the movie progresses.

I really was looking forward to more of him, after his great performance in the mediocre “Lawless.”

One-shot wonder Kyle Chandler (“Pure Country,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Tour of Duty”) whose15 minutes of fame lasted five years on a Texas football field, plays a C.I.A. boss, who has some potential to show his acting chops, but he, also, is ditched halfway through the movie.

If I hadn’t known in advance, I would have guessed that this movie was directed by a female. I am not the least bit misogynistic (Jodie Foster just might be my favorite actor/director), and the fact is that actress Jennifer Ehle (“The King’s Speech,” “A Gifted Man,” “Pride & Glory”) had her promising part chopped halfway through the film, also.

It was as though no one mattered in this movie, except Maya.

For me, the first half of the story was somewhat boring, but that probably is what the search for Bin Laden was like for those who were really chasing him. The fact that Bigelow low-keyed the mundane stuff, while Ben Affleck tried too hard to add excitement to the same type of stuff in “Argo,” was a  plus in my book for Ms. Bigelow.

It was still interesting enough to make the more than two-and-a-half-hour movie seem to whiz by. Showing the torture in the beginning and then letting it drop, after the U.S. questioned it, not really showing whether it continued or not, was a bit of genius.

Watching the thought processes of the C.I.A. machine keep track of millions of bits of intelligence information, only to pull tiny bits and pieces, and then connect them, was brilliantly done as well.

The actual raid on Bin Laden was where the action really picked up (naturally), and everything filmed was done in such a great way, that you felt like you were a member of SEAL Team 6.

One example was the Starlight Scope green images, which were a thousand times better than watching Michael Biehn and Charlie Sheen perform the same scenario in 1990’s “Navy Seals.” Sure, the audience couldn’t see as well, but that was the whole idea — in combat the action is murky.

The movie has quite a bit of controversy, which I think is funny, as Americans watch hundreds of shows and movies, from Maxwell Smart and Napoleon Solo to “The Eiger Sanction” and “Patriot Games” of good guys assassinating bad guys, but can’t stomach it when it hits them smack in the mouth.

No matter what you think about the politics of the actual event, you will enjoy “Zero Dark Thirty.” It is probably the best film you will see in 2013.

 Billy Summers is a freelance photographer who also reviews films for the Putnam Herald. He can be reached at summers855@yahoo.com.