Ty Burr: 3. “Zero Dark Thirty”
The most thrilling aspect of Kathryn Bigelow’s black-ops procedural is how unmelodramatic it is — how smartly it avoids hollow flag-waving and the sort of Hollywood suspense clichés that even get “Argo” in the end. The film doesn’t just follow the decade-long narrative of how Osama bin Laden was located and killed, it tracks an evolution of intelligence-gathering, from punishing force to reason and instinct to the surgical application of military might. The torture scenes early on are meant to be controversial: We’re in that room with the new CIA recruit played by Jessica Chastain, as horrified as she is and thrown back on our own response. “Zero Dark Thirty” is a drama of one woman’s stubbornness, but, more than that, it calmly shows us bureaucracy, breakthroughs, cruelty, commitment, the reality of collateral damage, and a national desire for revenge slaked at last. And then it asks, well, how do you feel about that?