Zero Dark Thirty

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Release date: December 19, 2012
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenplay by: Mark Boal
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Duplass, Chris Pratt, Joel Edgerton, James Gandolfini

If Zero Dark Thirty opened with a bunch of gun-wielding Americans yelling “RAH RAH AMERICA” while talking about how angry they were post 9/11, things might have gone better, but sadly, it doesn’t.

Bigelow’s widely praised look at the recent killing of Osama bin Laden kicks off with an uncomfortable audio recording of the events of September 11th. It’s an incredibly manipulative way to start off a film, especially when it cuts immediately to a series of torture sequences. It is here we are introduced to Maya (Chastain), a reluctant CIA operative whose life soon becomes completely focused on uncovering the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

Considering Zero Dark Thirty is one of the few female-led films up for Best Picture, I have to say I was hoping for more. Jessica Chastain does a fine job in her role as Maya, but it’s a fairly limited role that mostly involves her pacing and looking stressed out. Her character starts off with the potential of being interesting, but the deeper she gets into her hunt, the less she matters and the less we care about her hunt.

Another big problem that Mark Boal’s screenplay has is that it doesn’t bother giving any of the other characters any semblance of development. There’s a fine collection of actors, sure, and it’s got some interesting conversations and a few scenes that are packed in with tension, but it’s mostly just boring and predictable. Where The Hurt Locker had an interesting character study in Renner’s character, Zero Dark Thirty can’t even muster up enough real development in Maya to be considered one.

The one aspect that Kathryn Bigelow’s movie does impress in is her ability to make some really great technical decisions. We may have seen a few things back in The Hurt Locker, but there’s plenty of new and interesting stuff here, like the night raid that was partly shot with night vision. It’s not perfect, but it’s claustrophobic, depressing, and ultimately a pretty smart way to shoot the scene instead of making it some beautifully shot scene with perfect lighting and grandiose music and all that jazz. The scenes where Alexandre Desplat’s original score was heavily featured though reminds everyone exactly why Desplat’s best work is when he’s making filler music for something like Moonrise Kingdom.

No matter what the critics say, Zero Dark Thirty is far from Kathryn Bigelow’s best. It’s a well-made movie that doesn’t quite know how to fill its two and a half hour running length and isn’t all that engaging either. Bigelow’s recent career may not be the shining bundle of action many of us had hoped for, but at least we’ll always have Point Break.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Juan Barquin

Just yer average twenty-something college student with no time on his hands who ends up watching (and writing) too many movies and shows for his own good.

5 Responses

  1. amy says:

    I feel bad for all the post-movie talk about Maya being a bitch. Coz she really wasn’t, she just seemed to be not a people’s person, so all she had was her job. But that’s about as engaged as I was with this one.

    What sparked the most interest from me was ALL THIS TALK ABOUT THE TORTURE. And all I had to say about that was… “wait, that was it?” Much hype, not enough to back it up.

    • Juan Barquin says:

      @amy, have people really called Maya a bitch? Like how is that even a THING? Because her character is so far from a bitch it’s not even funny. Is it men saying this because that wouldn’t entirely surprise me? “OH A WOMAN WHO DOES HER JOB? AND WHO’S ONLY “FRIEND” DIED? AND WHO HAS EVERYONE UP AGAINST HER? WHAT A BITCH.” Come on. That’s so ridiculous.

      And like…I just thought the torture was so manipulative and unnecessary to show honestly. I don’t care if Bigelow says she’s pro or con or neutral or bunnies. There’s absolutely no denying that by choosing to place it in there, she chose to show the reality of it all, and Boal willingly chose to write in lines that pretty much said “dang we got a whole lot more info with torture than without it” so I don’t understand how this is an argument it’s clearly a movie depicting the positive aspects of torture (regardless of whether or not Maya happens to be the lucky one who gets some info post-torture by being nice for five seconds).

      It’s just…such a boring movie ugh.

      • amy says:

        @Juan Barquin, EXACTLY! I dunno if it’s men, I wasn’t sure (screen names, you know). But it seemed (it felt to me, anyway) it was a case of women calling other women bitches. I remember them saying that “that was the reason she didn’t have any friends”.

        I wonder if all this media attention for the torture scene(s) was fabricated. News like that, it makes your film be feature on regular news networks in every frigging station in America, and possibly a few couple of international outlets. I didn’t care for it, really, it happened. People torture, it happens. I wasn’t concerned on whether it’s pro or con. It was just there.

        I didn’t think it was unnecessary to show, though. Not showing it, wouldn’t it be like white-washing (for lack of a better term)? Like hide the fact that it existed. Showing it allows people to discuss on whether they’re for or against it- too bad Bigelow’s intent for the film wasn’t about that. xD

    • Rodrigo says:

      @amy, I never read about Maya being a bitch at all. Most I read was either lots of praise for Chastain (along with the film) or the occasional people comparing Maya to Carrie from Homeland since both were molded on the same female CIA operative (can’t remember her name).

      Agreed with the torture scenes. I was like “that’s it?” when they aired and lol’d a bit.

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