Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Zero Dark Thirty": review

"Zero Dark Thirty" is a war film directed by Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker") and starring the unrepentantly ginger Jessica Chastain as CIA analyst Maya Lambert. The story focuses on Lambert's determined hunt for Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3000 Americans. The final thirty minutes of the film are devoted to Seal Team Six's raid of bin Laden's fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

As movies about manhunts go—especially movies like this, in which every audience member already knows the outcome—"Zero Dark Thirty" was entertaining enough. The film included some supposedly controversial scenes of torture and abuse, but from what I saw, the movie also made a point of showing that it was the bait, not the switch, that led to the juicier intelligence. Unfortunately, the film also tended to telegraph its moves from a mile away (I knew, long before it happened, that Maya's friend was going to die in a suicide bomb blast, for example); that didn't help the buildup of suspense.

Sometimes the film's deliberate pacing, combined with its self-seriousness, allowed me to think idle thoughts while I was watching. There was one scene in particular that made me laugh—not because the scene was funny, but because of how it could have gone. In that scene, an unnamed CIA supervisor (UK vet Mark Strong) appeared in a conference room full of analysts, and he was in a holy rage. He gave a fiery, table-slamming harangue about how the CIA needed to do its job and give him targets—people to kill. Once the supervisor left the room, my first thought was that some joker should have stood up and shouted, "And who the fuck was that?" No serious film should give the viewer time to think such idle thoughts.

As for Osama himself, he's treated almost like a MacGuffin; we catch only glimpses of his corpse. Jessica Chastain, as Maya, was somewhat inconsistent in her delivery; there were times when she seemed almost self-consciously to be reading lines instead of delivering them naturally. I also question the film's implication that this lone girl was the ultimate driving force behind the push to kill bin Laden. As for the torture and the dust-blown terrorism... "24" prepared me well for all that, so there were no surprises. In all, "Zero Dark Thirty" was watchable, but not memorable. Would I want to see it again anytime soon? Probably not.


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