Joe Ledgerton and Chris Pratt star in <i>Zero Dark Thirty</i>.

This riveting two-hour-and-40-minute spy drama punctuated by a grisly invasion stolen from last year’s headlines is a lot less rah-rah America than you might imagine. At the same time, it’s maybe not as self-critical as it probably ought to be.

Never mind all the ruckus you’ve heard about the torture scenes. You would have to be an idiot to think that the film presents these gruesome scenes as glorification of water-boarding. At the same time, however, is there another docudrama as beautiful as this one? We follow Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA operative who not only obsessively sees the quest for Bin Laden through to the bitter end but also remains perfectly lovely even when leaning over a wall at a secret black-ops desert army base, her pretty red hair whipping in the desert zephyrs. That goes double for the handsome male leads, Jason Clarke and Kyle Chandler. It’s okay that everybody looks great, though certain scenes seem hoked up. A black cat crossing the path of a motorcade about to explode more like Hollywood moviemaking than truth telling; it all seems suspiciously cleaned up, though it makes a good companion piece to last year’s Argo.

Still, this film shouldn’t be missed. Zero Dark Thirty (whatever that means) is tense, ambiguous enough to start discussions about how the CIA helps fight wars, and, at the very least, a great example of something the film keeps extolling: craft. All controversies aside, no one can say director Kathryn Bigelow lacks craft.


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