Zero Dark Thirty Reviews
Controversial, not so much because of the subject matter, but mostly because of how the filmmakers may or may not have acquired their information, and the fact that the some think the film is fascistic, pro-torture propaganda.
Honestly, I do recognize that the film is propaganda, but not to a major level like something done by Leni Riefenstahl. And while the film does contain some unflinchingly uncomfortable and highly realistic portrayals of torture, it comes off, to me, as just a way to help get stuff accomplished. I mean, you could really turn this film into a big debate piece, but I think I'd rather just look at it as a history based procedural.
We get a look at the CIA's efforts, filtered through the lens of composite character Maya, a woman who has no friends, no family (at least none mentioned), and, outside of her job, no life. She will stop at nothing to find bin Laden and bring him down, no matter what kind of toll it takes, or the hoops she has to jump through.
Maya is a very one-dimensional character, but is nevertheless fascinating to watch. Jessica Chastain is amazing here, and she really brings that sense of frenzied determination to life wonderfully. Jason Clarke is also great as Dan, a CIA intelligence specialist who is really into torture, and not the kind of guy I'd want to be interrogated by.
In supporting roles of varying lengths we get Kyle Chandler as the CIA's Islamabad station chief, James Gandolfini as the CIA director, Jennifer Ehle as a senior analyst, Mark Strong as a senior supervisor, Harold Perrineau as an intelligence analyst, and Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Callan Mulvey, and Taylor Kinney as the more notable Navy SEALs featured here, ie SEAL Team Six. All these people put in some decent work, even if a lot of them just seem indistinguishable from one another at times.
Despite already knowing the ending, I found this to be pretty suspenseful at times, quite intense for almost the whole running time, and rather interesting in terms of seeing how it all went down, and the behind the scenes procedural and policy efforts.
The film is well shot, decently edited, and the music is quite effective too. Probably the most gripping moments are the torture scenes during the first act, and then the impressive recreation of the raid on the compound during the finale. These are some impressive done sequences, even if they can be tough to sit through, especially the torture stuff.
All in all, this is a decent movie. I do think it's overrated, and yeah, some of what is depicted and how the access to the info was done are questionable, and yeah, it does have an edge of rah rah go USA patriotism and you still propaganda, but, without that, you still have an engaging action military/intelligence procedural drama, and that's okay by me.
For me although there was alot going on, action and fantastic acting there just didnt seem to moving and i felt bored throughout the movie.
Majorly disappointed may watch again with lower expectations!
Having not read the full "story" of how bin Laden was allegedly caught & shot, I chose to check out the movie. Being fictionalized doesn't make it worse, at least not for me. While the tracking process of Laden for years by the CIA was quite interesting, I can't say the same for the killing/shooting (of Laden towards the end) process that consumes about half an hour of the movie. Except for that drag, I found the movie worth watching as a thriller. The performances were good in general, but Jessica Chestain was a bit loud. Watch it as a fictionalized version of real events (if at all anything such happened for real), and you'll probably be less disappointed. And of course, not caring for pro-torture or any political issue is bound to enhance the viewing experience. Overall, I'd rate "Zero Dark Thirty" 6.5/10.
The film opens to cries of help canvassed by a black sreen- it's a quick deduction to make that we're listening to the terrified voices of 9/11 victims, the moments after the first attack but before the real terror sets in.
This sets the tone for the entire movie- we're led to a black site in Pakistan where Maya (Jessica Chastain) spends the first months of her assignment away from D.C. Her partner, Dan (Jason Clarke), tortures a detainee with alleged links to Saudi terrorists, from methods such as waterboarding to other, more humiliating forms of torment.
But it's not sadistic on his part- gone are images of action movie tropes, the James Bond villain with the whip in his hand- you know this is real, and you realize that Dan's not enjoying it. "It's cool that you're so strong and I respect it." Dan says to the detainee. "But everybody breaks, bro." Maya, obviously, enjoys it less than Dan- she hasn't developed a callous to it yet, so she has trouble hiding her shock, but like Dan she realizes the necessity of the situation.
And that's why the controversy over the torture in this movie is ridiculous- it's not portrayed positively. This is one of the essential themes that Boal is trying to convey- frustration. These people have been working for years on a project to hunt down one man with no luck, their only link to him a guy who maybe knows a guy who maybe knows a guy who's connected to Bin Laden.
Maya spends years grasping at shreds of information and hunches that she hopes will get her to Bin Laden. As her own frustration deepens in the situation, torture as a means to get answers isn't as much of a problem for her anymore. Eventually connections are made that leads her to the compound where Bin Laden may or may not be hiding- is it worth pursuing?
The film isn't the blood-pumping, set piece-fueled masterpiece that Bigelow's previous work was, and playing off real events poses a bigger challenge for her. But like Boal, she doesn't compromise her picture. The situation isn't sexy, like Argo, but then again, Argo had more to play off of. Unlike Affleck, Bigelow doesn't go for making an entertaining suspense story. The suspense she creates is real, and the dramatization is gripping. She focuses on key aspects- the tortures, the bombings, and the frustration- and this is where she strikes gold- her characters.
Bigelow finds her muse in Chastain, who portrays her character without a single flaw. We can feel he callouses growing, feel her perspective shifting, feel her blood turning to ice. In February, when the clips are being played for the Best Actress nominees (and she'll surely be there), they'll probably show the scene where Chastain gets to cut down Kyle Chandler. But her true moments reside in introspection, particularly in, "I'm gonna smoke everybody involved in this op, and then I'm gonna kill bin Laden."
The film's true power is found at its stunning climax, zero dark thirty (midnight) on May 2nd, 2011. The raid on bin Laden's compound commands the viewer's attention, and much like the final chase scene in Argo, we know how it'll end, but still can't help but hope.
Although it occasionally feels more like a work of journalism than a movie, Zero Dark Thirty is a searing, intelligent depiction that provokes more thought than any other film this year.
But now that the dust has settled, it's plain to see why Zero Dark Thirty was so widely overlooked. It's not the subject matter itself; the hunt for Osama bin Laden is still fresh in people's minds. It's not the fact that Kathryn Bigelow's previous film, The Hurt Locker, won Best Picture; the Academy does not always operate on the basis of it being 'someone else's turn'. It's not even the controversy surrounding its depiction of torture - a controversy which is both absurd and ill-founded. It is instead because the film is nothing like as good as people would have us believe, being one of the most distant and needlessly clinical films in recent memory.
Before we get into the substance of the review, a quick point needs to be made about Bigelow's approach as a director. Throughout her career she has been referred to as a 'macho' filmmaker; Mark Kermode has often compared her to Sam Peckinpah. The remark that is often made is that she makes films which are deeply masculine in nature; it is surprising that a film as testosterone-driven as Point Break should be helmed by a woman, and that a woman should direct so much like a man.
These are, of course, completely stupid observations. Men make many different kinds of films, not all of which are macho or overtly masculine in nature. It's like saying that Killing Them Softly and Love Story should look and feel the same because they were both made by men. Women's output varies greatly too; you couldn't find much in common between this film and The Kids Are All Right or Aeon Flux. Bigelow is as capable of making 'male' films as any other female director; it is not a question of gender, but of her wider sensibility.
There is much about Zero Dark Thirty which is admirable or timely in some way. The story about the hunt for Osama bin Laden was always going to be told at some point because of its significance in the War on Terror narrative that dominates our world. It's easy to view this film is a bookend or follow-up to the mid-2000s wave of films about 9/11, such as World Trade Center and United 93.
You can argue all you like about the merits of an American filmmaker telling this story rather than a European or any other kind of nationality. But we should at least give credit to Bigelow and her screenwriter Mark Boal for the amount of effort and research which went into the production. The film was originally going to be about the failed attempt to capture bin Laden in 2001, with the screenplay being drastically rewritten after the events of May 2011. The level of detail in the film's recreation of the American intelligence services and their locations puts to bed any accusations of Oscar-baiting opportunism or flag-waving populism.
Much of the coverage surrounding the film has focussed on its depiction of torture. The film opens with our main character Maya (Jessica Chastain) witnessing one of her colleagues torturing a man to get information about a future terrorist attack. We see numerous different techniques employed, including solitary confinement, audio torture and the infamous waterboarding, accompanied by Maya's flinching and Dan's frustration at the man's refusal to divulge anything meaningful.
The extent of such scenes had led many commentators to accuse the film of having a pro-torture stance. Naomi Wolf went so far as comparing Bigelow to Triumph of the Will director Leni Riefenstahl, calling the film "amoral" and branding Bigelow as "torture's handmaiden." Such ridiculously hyperbolic comments presume that we cannot depict something without having a moral perspective on it, i.e. that we cannot show a shoe without having an opinion as to whether or not shoes are a good thing. The film depicts these scenes in clinical detail while informing us that the information that ultimately caught bin Laden was not obtained by these means. All we are left with is our emotional reaction, which is one of appropriate and justifiable revulsion.
Unfortunately, this clinical depiction of torture also illuminates the central flaw with Bigelow's film. The problem with Zero Dark Thirty is not its depiction of torture, or the means by which the filmmakers obtained their information, or even whether the version of events we are seeing is entirely accurate. The problem is that it gives us no reason to care about what we are seeing. Without any kind of context, about the War on Terror or the ground wars fought in its name, the film does not serve any kind of purpose or make any kind of sense. Put simply, it doesn't really have a point.
Zero Dark Thirty takes the procedural drama to an absurd extreme, so that it is all procedure and no drama. Boal's script is essentially one long exposition dump, with lots of convoluted information relayed to us so coldly, that when someone raises their voice, it's as much out of relief as it is surprise. The film makes no effort to let us in, either by allowing us to bond with the characters or by showing the gravitas of the situations in which they find themselves. Everything is told rather than shown, and as a result the film has about as much tension as a sub-par Agatha Christie novel.
It is more than possible to make exciting dramatic films based on reported accounts of real-life events. All The President's Men worked so well because it put the audience in the minds of Woodward and Bernstein; we grew to like them as we struggled to piece together the same pieces of information they uncovered. Alternatively, the huge amount of information in Michael Herr's Dispatches was brilliantly shaped into the gripping dramas of Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. While Boal's credentials as a war reporter are not in doubt, he is by no means a great screenwriter; he cannot translate facts into storytelling, or turn important figures into real people.
The characters in Zero Dark Thirty are all either deeply unlikeable or hollow shells. We are surrounded by a series of intelligent, brilliant individuals who are so focussed that they are warped, and they are given no human or real-world characteristics to endear them to us. Jessica Chastain is a terrifically charismatic actress, but Maya is such a blank slate; her level of detachment, or lack of overt emotion, borders on the sociopathic. The film is clearly meant to be about her obsessive drive to get bin Laden, but she's just so flat in her trajectory; we don't care whether she lives or dies, and her tears at the end are a desperate plea for sympathy that has not been earned.
There are ways of making films which are clinical or cold in construction which do have a genuine emotional impact - Stanley Kubrick did it all the time. Even if you weren't entirely bonded to the characters in, say, Full Metal Jacket, the film had enough striking imagery and intellectual nuance to keep you interested. Zero Dark Thirty has no interesting insights about the war, the US, terrorism or bin Laden. It takes no side and has almost no plot: as Roger Ebert put it in his positive review, "the plot is Maya thinks she is right, and she is".
Having said all this, the final set-piece involving the killing of bin Laden is generally well-executed (no pun intended). The fact that we often cannot see what is going on is largely intentional, putting us in the circumstances of the soldiers who have a plan of attack but also have to think on their feet. The hand-held camerawork goes overboard during the helicopter crash but is largely fine elsewhere, and the sequence as a whole is very well-paced. The scene's success, however, is a pyrrhic one, because it makes us wish the whole film had been like that.
Zero Dark Thirty is a massively overrated film which fails to live up to both the form of The Hurt Locker and its own hype. Once all its controversies are stripped away, the end result is pedestrian, flat and unmemorable, with no three-dimensional characters, poor writing and very little tension. Its biggest crime, aside from squandering Chastain, is that it is really dull - though at least this comes from ineptitude rather than contempt for the audience. It isn't torture to sit through, but that's about the kindest thing you can say.