Kathryn Bigelow’s highly anticipated follow-up to 2008’s Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker lives up to the hype and surpasses that film in most aspects over its two-and-a-half hour running time. The Point Break director doesn’t have Jeremy Renner to harnass the same emotional punch, but Jessica Chastain fills in nicely as an out-of-high-school CIA lifer. It would be impossible not to compare Zero Dark Thirty to Homeland, as it does feel like an episode of the Showtime series on steroids, minus the intense character develop. Chastain’s Maya is not bipolar or suicidal but is just as focused and one-directional as Claire Dane’s Carrie. When asked by a high-ranking political figure (played by James Gandolfini) during the last stages of planning for the uncertain Bin Laden siege “Who are you?” Maya responds without filter, “I’m the motherfucker who found this house.”
The $40 million dollar budget does allow for one of the more exquisitely intense endings in recent memory. Like Ben Affleck’s anxiety-inducing Argo, you know how the story ends, and it takes nothing away from the experience. The torture scenes are as controversial as you’ve heard but are needed in order to maintain the authenticity of the story, which is based on true events. Most effective of all may be the opening minute of the film, in which we just get audio over a black screen. It’s a set-up that guarantees you’ll be satisfied with how this specific account of history ends.