Director Kathryn Bigalow and screenwriter Mark Boal pull off an amazing achievement. Based on real accounts, they have taken a ten year manhunt and condensed it into a riveting two and a half hour film. "Zero Dark Thirty", if you don't know by now is the story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and even though we all know the outcome, it is fascinating to watch how it all came together (taking a leap of faith that the real events are just that).
Credit Mark Boal for a script that compresses ten years worth of material into a film that flows smoothly and keeps the audience involved throughout. Credit Kathryn Bigalow for her taut, precise direction of the actors and the faithful recreation of actual events. And credit most of all, Jessica Chastain for her lead role of Maya, the CIA analyst who devotes 12 years of her life to one goal, find and kill Osama Bin Ladin. It is Ms. Chastain's performance that is the heart and soul of the film. Her devotion to her character, her driving dedication to her mission is what anchors the film and propels the story forward like a bullet. She is on screen for almost the entire film and never permits herself time to breath until her goal has been reached.
Besides Ms. Chastain, the film enlists a large cast with many speaking roles but most are flashes of dialogue and short scenes to connect the dots. James Gandolfini, Mark Strong, Harold Perrineau Jr. and Joel Edgerton all do admirable work, each with a key scene or two but they will not be the ones you will remember. Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez and Jason Clarke rise above the others and are all outstanding. Mr. Clarke continues a star making trajectory started way back on Showtime's short lived but excellent series, "Brotherhood".
The film may be too intense for some, too technical for others but I found it well balanced and an exciting glimpse inside the shadowy world of international espionage and intelligence where occasionally the good guys win (even if they have to get their hands dirty to do it).