“Zero Dark Thirty” (R): The graphic al-Qaida terrorism and the torturous “enhanced interrogation” used by CIA operatives in this account of the search for Osama bin Laden make “Zero Dark Thirty” truly for 17 and older. Older teens will better understand the deep complexity of the issues, too. Filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who collaborated on the multiple Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” (R, 2008; released in the U.S. in 2009), continue their reality-based filmmaking about the United States’ “War on Terror.” This time, they use accounts from various sources to dramatize how CIA operatives tracked down bin Laden. Jessica Chastain is steely, humorless and obsessive as the agent, called “Maya” in the film, who made it her business to find bin Laden – a mission that took more than a decade – despite colleagues’ doubts about her theories. She watches a fellow agent (Jason Clarke) use waterboarding and other methods – stretching arms and legs nearly to dislocation; sleep deprivation; locking curled-up suspects into boxes half their size – and she seems at first to cringe with disapproval. But Maya gets used to the process and become a tangential part of it. She deduces that the path to bin Laden is through al-Qaida’s elusive couriers. It takes years before she is certain and the Navy SEALs hit the compound in Pakistan. The last 45 minutes or so follow the raid closely, and Bigelow’s dramatization is utterly riveting. The film has sparked much debate.
Scenes in which CIA operatives use waterboarding and other coercive methods on terror suspects are graphic and disturbing, both as simple violence and as nuanced moral choices, i.e., when is it too much? Other violence includes frightening suicide bombings – telegraphed with incredible tension. Characters use strong profanity, smoke and drink.
“Gangster Squad” (R): Too deafeningly violent and full of profanity and graphic sexual slang for moviegoers under 17, “Gangster Squad” could also put off older teens and adults who may have had enough of guns in the news and on film. That is totally understandable. However, taken solely as a cops-’n’-gangsters movie, “Gangster Squad” works. It looks and sounds like a high-class graphic novel, with everyone and everything in it bigger than life and twice as sarcastic. The crackerjack cast tears up the scenery with big acting nearly as much as all the bullets fired. The film takes its inspiration from a special police unit created in the late 1940s to extricate Los Angeles from the clutches of killer crime boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn in a truly hammy turn). Josh Brolin plays tough-as-nails police sergeant John O’Mara. Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) orders O’Mara to set up a take-no-prisoners squad to clean up Mickey Cohen’s empire of gambling, prostitution and heroin.
The film opens with mobsters tricking a young woman into a fake movie audition, which turns into an attempted rape, from which Sgt. O’Mara rescues her. It never becomes graphic. Shootouts are loud, bloody and frequent. The violence also includes stabbings and bone-breaking fist fights. The script is as riddled with profanity and explicit sexual slang as the action scenes are with gunfire, while sexual situations are only implied. A few ethnic slurs are also used.