'Zero Dark Thirty': Taking Bin Laden Down

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Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal last teamed up on the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, set during the Iraq war. The hunt for Osama bin Laden is the subject of their new drama, Zero Dark Thirty.


"Zero Dark Thirty" is a new film already out in some theaters. It follows the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Yesterday, on this program, we heard from director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal. Now, let's hear from film critic Kenneth Turan.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "Zero Dark Thirty" has been in the news lately for its graphic depiction of CIA torture. But everything in the film is overshadowed by the performance of Jessica Chastain as Maya, the CIA agent who found bin Laden.


JESSICA CHASTAIN: (as Maya) There are two narratives about the location of Osama bin Laden. The one that you're most familiar with is that UBL is hiding in a cave in the tribal areas; that he's surrounded by a large contingent of loyal fighters. The second narrative is that he's living in a city.

TURAN: Maya devotes every waking moment of her life to locating and destroying the wily terrorist. Her single-minded ferocity and stubbornness make up the emotional through-line that engages us in "Zero Dark Thirty's" story. What is most exciting about Maya is that she's not a heroine but rather, an archetypal big-screen hero. Maya doesn't have a boyfriend, or any life outside her work; and she's not burdened with a teary breakdown, or a glib series of reasons to explain the way she acts. This woman is formidable - with a gaze that could melt steel, and the sharpest tongue in town. And Chastain makes her clashes with her superiors thrilling to behold.


KYLE CHANDLER: (as Joseph Bradley) You're gonna start working on the American al-Qaida cells. Protect the homeland.

CHASTAIN: (as Maya) Bin Laden is the one who keeps telling them to attack the homeland! If it wasn't for him, al-Qaida would still be focused on overseas targets. If you really want to protect the homeland, you need to get bin Laden.

CHANDLER: (as Joseph Bradley) This guy never met bin Laden.

TURAN: Director Kathryn Bigelow proves herself, once again, to be a master of heightened realism and narrative drive. Her directing style is so good at briskly moving us along, that the time it takes to get up to speed with the film's complicated plot doesn't feel like a problem. If "Zero Dark Thirty" has any message, it's that Maya's slow, meticulous, painstaking gathering of information is what brought bin Laden down.

It was a tremendously tedious process in real life, but the movie makes it as exciting as all get out. "Zero Dark Thirty" is about what one character calls big breaks, and the little people who make them happen. It's also cinematic storytelling at its most effective.

GREENE: You hear film critic Kenneth Turan here, on MORNING EDITION. He also reviews movies for the Los Angeles Times.


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