Film: Zero Dark Thirty (2012) Cast includes: Jessica Chastain (The Help), Jason Clarke (Public Enemies), Reda Kateb (A Prophet), Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), Jennifer Ehle (The Ides of March), Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Joel Edgerton (Warrior) Director: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) Screenplay: Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) Genre: Drama | History | Action | Suspense (157 minutes)

It starts with a black screen and a cacophony of radio chatter, 911 calls and raw panic. Two years after 9/11, at a Black Site in Pakistan, the CIA is trying to crack the Saudi Group. "I am bad news," Dan shouts at Ammar, who is upright only because of the ropes. The prisoner is filthy, scared, battered and not talking. It's Maya's first day at an interrogation site... "Just off the plane from Washington, wearing your best suit," says Dan with a sneer. Maybe it's not what Maya was expecting. Anyway, she gets a dusty little desk on the third floor of the US Embassy in Islamabad. "Washington says she's a killer," but the others find her somewhat abrasive. It's hard to trust intelligence obtained by extreme interrogation methods, but they're pressing hard to find Abu Faraj. The coordinated Mumbai hotel bombing reminds us once again that the Al Qaida network is alive and active. While the others focus on Abu Faraj, Maya begins taking an interest in another player who's always just outside the circle of attention... Abu Ahmed. She suspects he might be the connection between Osama Bin Laden, Abu Faraj and others.

"Everyone knows about Abu Ahmed, but no one knows any details... just that he delivers messages." When she finally finds someone who's talking, he tells her, "You will never find him. He's one of the disappeared ones." Meanwhile, politics are changing. On TV, our new President says, "America doesn't torture." Dan thinks Maya needs to take some time off. "I'm not going to find Abu Ahmed from DC." "Fine. But you don't want to be the last one holding a dog collar when the politics change," warns Dan. Meanwhile, Jessica, one of Maya's coworkers, has scored an important meeting with an Al Qaida operative who's going to give up important information. Maya and Jessica toast... "To big breaks... and the little people who make them happen." The next day, Jessica and 9 others are killed in a suicide attack at Camp Chapman.

Back at Langley, they're frustrated... "Do your fucking jobs! Bring me people to kill!" When others see dead ends, Maya sees "trade craft." No matter how they pressure her, "It's her against the world." And as we now know, it was the courier who finally led them to Bin Laden. The excellent script by Mark Boal is "based on first-hand accounts of actual events." (That's not to say creative liberties weren't taken.) While no classified information was available, insiders say the film captures the spirit of actual events. The filmmakers assume we're familiar with many aspects of the story... they focus almost entirely on the CIA hunt for Bin Laden... until we get to the actual mission at 0:30 on a moonless night. It's a totally gripping 2.5 hours. It builds to a white-knuckle ending... even though we already know how it turns out. Between The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow has set a new standard in movies about war. They're gritty and very violent, yet without gratuitous violence. They're gripping but never romanticized or heroic. Even her heroes are noticeably un-heroic. "Where are you going from here?" Good question.

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4) One relentless CIA agent spends years following clues to Osama Bin Laden's courier

Popcorn Profile Rated: R (Language, Nudity, Violence) Audience: Young adults & Grown-ups Distribution: Mainstream wide release Mood: Neutral Tempo: Zips right along Visual Style: Unvarnished realism Character Development: Not that kind of film Language: True to life Social Significance: Informative

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categories Movies