Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty
I saw ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ yesterday and I have to say, people need to calm the fuck down. It’s a good movie, not great. The good-movie-for-adults-hungry critics are heaping praise on the film (it has a 95 over at Metacritic!)
First off, the movie is very slow-going. I was really looking forward to seeing it as I love Kathryn Bigelow’s last film ‘The Hurt Locker’. Plus, it looked to be smart, well-written, and promises to feed our blood-lust for war revenge.
The first hour or so is an introduction to the various ways our government tortures alleged war criminals (no trial necessary, of course, just do it in another country and our hands are clean). There are several scenes introducing us to the various captives and interrogators, locations, and CIA ‘Black Sites’. We meet Jessica Chastain’s character (a relatively unexperienced CIA operative), who quickly comes into her own. It all sounds terribly interesting, but it actually comes of as a bit tedious as the flip-flops from scene to scene. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, back to Pakistan, etc.
The second-half marks a substantial shift in the pacing and the film begins to build tension. Al-Qaeda executes more and more terror attacks around the world as an increasingly frustrated Chastain tries desperately to find Osama bin Laden and kill him. She feels responsible and it becomes personal as some of her colleagues are killed. The tipping-point seems to come when a fellow CIA operative she works with—and was beginning to bond with—is killed. The woman, known as Jessica, is played brilliantly by Jennifer Ehle. The two share a surprising scene that takes place in a Marriott hotel in Islamabad. This scene changes the movie’s course.
A lot has been made of the film’s (inaccurate) account of waterboarding and the torture technique’s efficacy. Write Mark Boal has explained that he has taken some liberties and that he needed to combine and edit characters and situations to ensure good story flow. This is fine with me, as it is virtually impossible to make a good two hour movie based on such complicated actual events otherwise. I get that. However, the film’s dialogue does, at times, come off as slightly CSI-ish Hollywood movie banter.
Would an American describe a plate of Middle Eastern food to a Middle Eastern guy in the middle of the Middle East? Or, is that just done for our sake? I’ll go with the latter. I’d be willing to bet Abdul knows what hummus is, but Eunice in South Carolina may not. It’s tiny little touches in the script like this that keep it from being pristine. Another little touch that is lacking for me is actually Jessica Chastain’s performance. She’s getting raves where again, I think it is good, not great. There are times (especially early on) where I can see the acting.
Watch the clip below. Her pauses, her eye-closing, feels a little too deliberate for me. Her screaming feels a little over-the-top. I think she over-acts here.
The end of the film is where it really shines. The raid on the bin Laden compound by US Navy Seals is a nail-biter. Great movie-making. It makes the film well-worth your pennies. The film went into production prior to bin Laden being killed and once he was there was talk of the project being scrapped. However, Bigelow and crew quickly quashed those rumors and said they would merely change the previously planned ending.
Thankfully it all went down the way it did, as I could not imagine how the film would have worked if it wasn’t for the raid scene. Could you imagine watching a movie about the hunt for the world’s most notorious terrorist only for it to end with an epilogue: ‘to this day, bin Laden remains in hiding!’ No.
[***] out of [****]
‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is rated R and is currently playing in theaters nationwide. It is directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal. It stars Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, and Reda Kateb.