Aslum's Review of Zero Dark Thirty
Zero Dark Thirty(2013)
This is what a patriotic movie should be all about.
ZERO DARK THIRTY (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012) tells us that it is based on the true events that led to the execution of Osama Bin Laden, and because I don't know what actually happened, I don't know what was embellished and what wasn't. But man, I really hope this is close to the truth (as Bigelow has said it is in interviews), because this is an excellent film that puts a lot of things about 911 and the human condition into a striking perspective. It begins when a character we know as Mya (Jessica Chastain) gets initiated into the world of the manhunt to find Bin Laden by taking part in an enhanced interrogation that includes water boarding. Immediately we see what kind of movie this is - unapologetic, but at the same time, with no interest in speeches, gloating, or any other obnoxious gesture we have come to associate with patriotism in the modern era. These are people doing their job, and as it turns out, a very difficult one, full of false starts, disappointments, death, and burn outs, including Maya's trainer (Jason Clarke), a PhD who tells her early on in their association to just get out. She's young; she should do something else, this kind of work is not for anybody, least of all a woman who we later learn was recruited fresh out of High School, and has her whole life ahead of her. Instead, this focused, driven woman chooses to spend her life hunting Bin Laden, a choice that becomes more urgent when she loses a friend (Jennifer Ehle) in the process. It's a lesson in what a human being is really capable of when s/he dedicates him / herself to a cause. A cause, admittedly, that is in no small part about revenge, but to its credit, the movie makes no judgement. It just tells us what happened.
And it does so very well, because this movie is beautifully shot, flawlessly edited, and masterfully directed. This movie has several moments where it could easily turn into a film about speeches, like my hated A FEW GOOD MEN (Rob Reiner, 1992), or a "Fuck yeah" patriotic movie, and never does. Instead, it de-glamorizes the long and painstaking work done by professionals that brought one of the greatest mass murderers of our time to justice. And it points out that in some ways, they just got lucky.
But that's not to say that they didn't do an incredible thing, and are worthy of praise for it. Real life, the film reminds us, is more like that than not, which can also be said about Kathryn Bigelow's recent films. They are about big things, but lack those "big" moments, creating a realism that is hard to do, particularly dealing with subject matter this well known (relatively - Bigelow's sources, of course, got into hot water for revealing too much here). By rendering it this way, she takes it away from the obnoxiousness the world associates with the U.S. military and reminds us that these are good people doing what needs to be done, often at a great cost to themselves. This theme appeared in THE HURT LOCKER (Bigelow, 2008) also, and I like that Bigelow has fully realized this strength of hers. She really is a fantastic filmmaker, and this film removes all doubt of that.
Most importantly to me, however, is that she takes a concept that I originally thought was really dull, so dull that I would not have seen it if I wasn't invited to it, and came away amazed at how compelling a movie it was. THE HURT LOCKER really is a clinic on what good direction is, and I can't recommend it enough. A