Zero Dark Thirty

January 13, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment
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I find it hard to know how to interpret a movie this embedded in recent history.  I use that word “embedded” deliberately because, for much of the film, it feels like the audience is a journalist tagging along on this very real journey.  Director Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) is not John Woo; there are no scenes of people falling in slow motion while firing with both hands.  Nothing feels larger than life in her films.  Her great talent as a film maker has been to remove the Hollywood from a Hollywood film and leave behind the essential story.  In this film, that essence is Jessica Chastain’s character, “Maya,” who is on a one-woman mission to get UBL (that’s code for Osama Bin Laden.  Why U and not O?  They never say).  If the film is to be believed, neither Bush and his administration nor Obama and his can take responsibility for getting Bin Laden; it is all the doing of one very determined redhead.  In fact, the superhero trope is so present here, it does make me question the overall accuracy of the film.  Much has been made of the alleged use of classified materials and, in particular, the use of torture to garner information.  I would be curious what the average viewer thinks of “enhanced interrogation” after leaving the theater but I suspect that most people would find it justified, at least in this context.  I don’t think that is the film makers’ agenda and I do think one could have a lively debate about ends justifying the means after watching this movie.  Chastain will almost certainly win the Oscar in a field that seems almost set up for her to win.  Not that she doesn’t do well; she’s a brilliant actress who was one of the stars of my favorite film of 2011 (“Take Shelter”) and she is the centerpiece of this entire movie.  Circling all around her is a solid cast made up of James Gandolfini and a bunch of people you will vaguely remember as having been on TV at some point (“wait, isn’t that the dude from ‘Boston Legal’?”).  Some might complain that, at 2 hours 37 minutes, the film runs too long but I was never bored.  I found the inter-workings of our intelligence agencies (however accurate) to be fascinating to watch.  Though the action scenes are few, they are where Bigelow’s skill really shows through; she keeps the scenes taut and minimalist in a way that gives them so much more impact for seeming so real.  The final scenes really are brilliantly done.  But, for all that, I will say that there is also something cold about this movie.  I am never drawn in or feel connected to the characters.  Bigelow’s characters, both in this and “Hurt Locker” are fully realized but they are not warm; I don’t feel for them the way I do other characters in other films.  I was fascinated by this film and I respect the skill of it immensely but I was never moved by it.

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