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Movie review: Not much light in 'Zero Dark Thirty'

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Entertainment,Movies,Kelly Jane Torrance

Rest easy, America. We might be under attack from anti-Western fundamentalists whose lack of interest in human life -- even their own -- means they can't be reasoned with. We can still sleep easy at night: A hot redhead takes terrorism so personally that she'll do whatever it takes to stop it. She got Osama bin Laden single-handedly.

That's not exactly the message of "Zero Dark Thirty." But it's not that far off, either. Kathryn Bigelow's highly anticipated film about the hunt for the al Qaeda leader is, as the opening credits inform us, "based on first-hand accounts of actual events." But it is such a stereotypically Hollywood-ized version of those events that it veers awfully close to the laughable.

Filmmakers must take a certain amount of dramatic license to turn real events into narrative entertainment. But there is no excuse for making the decadelong, collaborative effort to find America's public enemy No. 1 look like the work of one woman.

Congressional committees want to find out just how much access the CIA and other agencies gave to the makers of "Zero Dark Thirty." Politicians' public pronouncements have only aided the filmmakers' narrative that with their work, America can finally see the real story behind the May 2011 death of bin Laden. But there's very little authenticity to this project.

On screen
'Zero Dark Thirty'
2.5 out of 4 stars
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Rated: R for strong violence, including brutal disturbing images, and for language
Running time: 157 minutes

The film opens two years after the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a CIA officer sent to Pakistan to aid the investigation into the whereabouts of the man behind the worst terrorist attack to take place on American soil. Fellow CIA officer Dan (Jason Clarke) is interrogating a prisoner.

"I own you, Ammar," Dan tells the man (Reda Kateb). "This is what defeat looks like, bro. Your jihad is over." Early in the film, we see him waterboarded. (In reality, only three high-level al Qaeda fighters were subjected to that specific "enhanced interrogation technique.")

Ammar doesn't cave, but sleep deprivation has him so confused that Maya and Dan manage to convince him he has. And what he tells them leads, after many twists and turns, to the courier of bin Laden -- and thus to bin Laden himself.

The information that eventually got SEAL Team Six to an estate in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was the result of many people taking many tacks. But their work is downplayed here in favor of the easy story of one driven woman fighting a patriarchal system that doesn't want to see her succeed. It's preposterous, of course.

That's not to say "Zero Dark Thirty" is without interest. There is a fair amount of information here, and some exciting moments, too, even though we all know how this story ends. What we don't know -- and "Zero Dark Thirty" doesn't tell us -- is how that ending, satisfying to every American and lover of freedom throughout the world, came to pass.

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