Zero Dark Thirty

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Trailer for Zero Dark Thirty

Well, in hot pursuit of catching all the Academy Award Best Picture nominees before the day of the awards show, we ventured out to see this film today. I thought that a 1:50 PM showing on a Sunday would be empty; but quite the opposite, the theater was completely packed.

The movie can be roughly divided into thirds as it follows the work of a CIA agent “Maya” that does the grunt work involved in locating the hidden, infamous Osama bin Laden; Maya eventually becomes obsessed with finding him. The first third of the film is where the now highly publicized detainee interrogations happen (read: torture). The second third is after the character Dan (played by Jason Clarke) gets “burned out” on torturing and goes back to Washington; Maya remains in Pakistan following her lead. The last third is when all the hard work culminates into finding bin Laden, attacking his compound and his eventual execution.

Simply put, I didn’t like the film. I have to say that I was excited that a woman had directed it, but I was disappointed by that fact at the end. I didn’t derive any pleasure from the watching of any of it.

The beginning third was disturbing. Let’s just say it is the “sausage making” of intelligence. We all know that torture happens and perhaps there is a role for that (an argument for another day), but I am happier in my ignorance of the nitty gritty of it.

I read that the character played by Jessica Chastain, “Maya” was never met by the actress. This is for obvious reasons, “Maya’s” real identity needs protecting. But I feel like they (the director and actress) don’t know her and they seem to guess about what she is like. They seem a little confused in attempting to interpret her. Chastain does a good job portraying someone who is intense about what they do, but it seems like the character was approached too simply, in too cliche of a manner. For example, at one point, “Maya” in a meeting full of all male CIA upper levels interjects that she is the “motherfucker” that found the house of Bin Laden. The outburst seemed contrived and for show; I certainly don’t know Maya, but after her tireless dedication and professionalism, in a room full of men whom she wanted to take her seriously, I don’t imagine that she would make an outburst like that. There were other bits in the film like that, for example the interchange between Jessica and Maya as they dined at the JW Marriott.

Also, none of the other characters really had a chance at development. For such a complex film, we are left really only getting to know one character. A feeble attempt is made to graze the surface of Jessica, but that too is turned into a predicable cliche: the overly zealous agent that wrongly trusts an informant and bucks protocol to her own peril…

Technically speaking, in the last third, much of the scene where they raid Bin Laden’s complex is filmed in the dark. I understand why they did that, to make it feel more real, like it would have been from the Seal’s perspective, but I can never fully grasp what is going on when that is done. Bigelow tries to put too much detail in that bit that muddies it.

An interesting film from a historical perspective. I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from going to see it. I would probably give it three of five stars. I don’t think it will win for Best Picture. Roberto and I both liked both Argo and Lincoln better.

P.S. According to IMDb Zero Dark Thirty is military slang for “an unspecified time in the early hours of the morning before dawn” which is when the final mission occurs.