Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty

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I caught a late night showing of Zero Dark Thirty last night, and as I got back home in the wee hours of the morning, I shook the shoulder of my girlfriend who had gone to sleep.  (surprised eye open) “Huh, whaaaa, huh?” she said.  I replied with a smirk “They got him.  Babe, they got him.”  “Whaaaat…?  What are you…  Huh?  Got who…?”  “They got Osama Bin Laden…”  She then gave me an angry grumble and turned over and went back to sleep.  I couldn’t help it!  I was overly excited and stimulated!  Zero Dark Thirty was freakin’ awesome!

It’s a well constructed movie, that’s for sure.  It goes through over a decade of time with pretty staggering results, in less than three hours.  It goes through every terrorist attack connected to Osama and how it effected the people hunting him down.  What’s nice about it is that it’s easy to follow, yet complex enough that I understood how difficult it was to track this guy down.  It’s quite a journey, and a very exciting one at that.

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I don’t know how much I can really say without ruining the real life surprises and twists, but it’s amazing how the film follows a simple thread of details that eventually lead to their target.  It doesn’t jump around too much, and stays focused on the important elements.  It has suspense galore, and plenty of moments that made me feel very uncomfortable.  Interrogation is a messy business.

The directing from Kathryn Bigelow is pretty solid.  Worthy of that directing nomination she didn’t get yesterday.  At least over Spielberg.  C’mon, the guy phoned it in for Lincoln.  But even so, Zero Dark Thirty only had subpar cinematography.  But then again, so did The Hurt Locker.  But it had great editing!  This is my pick for the editing Oscar.  Great pacing, and as I mentioned before, great job covering a lot of events in the allotted screen time.

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Burt Maclin?

The climactic “action” sequence with the Navy Seals at the bin Laden compound was one of the most thrilling film sequences of the year.  It was one of those scenes where I completely forgot I was even watching a movie because that how sucked into it I was.  My hands were sweaty, I was biting my nails; it was a brilliantly staged sequence.  And it really makes you observe the insane teamwork these military guys operate with while sweeping through an area.  It was cool and frightening and thrilling all at the same time.  It was an excellently executed (no pun intended) ending.

One criticism of the suspense though, was that the film flies by at a great pace, so when they started to show a scene where nothing is happening, or a mundane activity is being shown in prolonged detail; you knew the scene was about to turn bad.  It mildly killed the initial suspense when it gave me not-so-subtle cues that something was about to explode, or someone was about to get shot at.

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The acting was good, but in my eyes, only serviceable.  Jessica Chastain did a nice job, perhaps worthy of a nomination, but I don’t really consider worthy of a statue.  I think a lot of other people could have pulled it off just as good.  At least she didn’t over-act it.  But there was no character development whatsoever, and I learned nothing about her character’s actual personality other than she is intensely committed to her job.  To compare it to The Hurt Locker, Jeremy Renner’s character at least had a personality.  Zero Dark Thirty’s Maya did not.  But really, I was more interested in the hunt than I was in learning about Maya’s personal life.  At least in this case.  I suppose a different actress, like Julianne Moore (if I’m sticking with redheads), would have made the character too “loud”.  There’s some sad nuance in Chastain’s performance that makes her a tragic figure; consumed with only doing one task.  She basically sacrificed her entire personal life fort this job.  So I guess I take back my comment about her not having a personality.  She wasn’t supposed to have a personality.  That’s the point.  The job was her personality.  Which is why the final shot is kind of heartbreaking.  When all you’ve accomplished in your life comes to an end, even a satisfying one, what do you do next?  OK, maybe the character wasn’t as bad as I thought.

Actually, now that I think about it, none of the characters were fully developed.  But it never gives us the chance to really learn about them.  But at least they all acted well.  And recognizable faces just kept showing up out of nowhere.  “Oh, wow, I guess James Gandolfini is in this movie…”

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As my friend pointed out as we were walking out of the theater, “this was the best episode of Homeland I’ve ever seen”.  He’s kind of right.  If you like Homeland, you’ll probably love Zero Dark Thirty.  It’s like a shorter, more condensed version of a Homeland season.  And without all the convoluted love triangles and unnecessary side plots involving vehicular manslaughter.  Just to be clear, I like Homeland, but it has a fair amount of stupid shit I don’t care about as well.  Zero Dark Thirty was everything good about Homeland compressed into one movie.

I like these kind of CIA manhunt movies, so I found this movie fascinating.  I don’t know if it’s the discussion creator it wants to be, because it’s very blunt in its depictions of torture.  Does it work?  Does it not work?  Well, it kind of worked for a while, until they took it away from them.  But then they just used their intellect to figure out the puzzle anyway.  So maybe torture shouldn’t be the go-to method of problem solving?  I don’t know.  If you look at Zero Dark Thirty as pure film entertainment, it’s a near-complete success.  It has a few shortcomings, but nothing crippling.  I’m no expert on what is and isn’t based on absolute fact, so I took it at its face value and loved it.  Call me naive for saying that, but I just wanted to see a good movie at 10 pm on a Thursday night.  And that I did.  Worthy of waking up my girlfriend at 1:15 in the morning to tell her how awesome it was.

9 out of 10


3 thoughts on “Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty

  1. Ginnie says:

    The question I have not been hearing is, how effective–cost and information-wise–is Lamborghini-boarding over water-boarding?

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