Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty Movie Review

Even though I don’t think it was too soon to make a movie about the bin Laden manhunt, I’m still surprised someone had the guts to do it. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) had a great opportunity to be politically skewed, so I wasn’t sure it would be worth the effort. However it is well done, and is up for several Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress.
Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a CIA operative whose first experience is in the interrogation of prisoners following the Al Qaeda attacks against the U.S. on September 11th, 2001. She is a reluctant participant in extreme duress applied to the detainees, but believes that the truth may only be obtained though such tactics. For several years, she is single-minded in her pursuit of leads to uncover the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden. Finally in 2011, it appears that her work will pay off, and a U.S. Navy SEAL team is sent in to capture bin Laden. But only Maya is confident bin Laden is where she says he is. If she’s wrong, it will bring worldwide shame to the United States for breaking into a compound on the land of a nation that is tentatively an ally.
The 9/11 attacks are still an emotionally and politically charged subject and I feel as though there was no way to make this movie without offending someone to at least some degree. Yes, we see some CIA officers using torture and humiliation tactics to get information from prisoners at a black site. That is going to cause some people to cringe; they don’t want to see that and they won’t want to acknowledge that Americans were torturing prisoners for information. If that had been left out, other viewers would be offended and accuse the film of being biased, that Hollywood is trying to hide the truth, or that Zero Dark Thirty used rose-tinted camera lenses or something.
My biggest concern was that the movie would be politically skewed and would glorify President Obama and demonizing President Bush, or vice versa. This didn’t happen. In fact, mention of either President was minimal at most. It didn’t suggest that 9/11 was an inside job or anything. I was so relieved that Zero Dark Thirty was not so politically skewed and simply focused on objective facts.
I’m glad that this movie didn’t use big name actors. With two exceptions, I didn’t know a single actor. I recognized Joel Edgerton as the Red Squadron Team Leader from The Odd Life of Timothy Green and from Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith as young Uncle Lars. I also recognized John Barrowman from the Doctor Who and Torchwood TV shows. Because I didn’t recognize any of the actors, it made the movie seem more realistic; that is to say that it wasn’t made glamorous by adding big name actors or actors who look good and have no talent.
Okay, Jessica Chastain was in The Help, but I didn’t make that connection until looking up her filmography a couple of days afterwards. She was outstanding in Zero Dark Thirty. Early on she’s an uncertain and reserved individual, but she grows into this confident, powerful woman whom even upper level CIA personnel are hesitant to disagree with. Chastain carries the movie; it wouldn’t have been nearly as good without her. Her delivery is intense and powerful and simply blows you away. She’s got my vote for Best Actress.
Zero Dark Thirty has an episodic structure; it’s a string of short stories that usually center on Maya. Typically this sort of movie focuses on the marines, and not the government intelligence that leads the hunt for someone like bin Laden. This is largely about the people doing research, typing on their computers, making logical connections, and chasing paper trails. It’s almost like a whodunit sort of mystery, except that we know whodunit and we just need to find where he is. The story spans several years, other characters weave in and out of the story, and we see several Al Qaeda attacks that you’ll recognize if you watch the news at all. It’s very episodic, and at times focuses on the dull paperwork and other times on very tense action. We know how the movie ends, but there is still such a level of intensity and uncertainty that it holds you on the edge of your seat right up until the end.
Zero Dark Thirty is a great movie that fortunately remains objective and focuses on the behind-the-scenes events that lead up to defeating the notorious terrorist leader. There are some scenes, such as the torture scenes mentioned above, that are uncomfortable to watch and there is plenty of profanity. If you’re offended by such material, I don’t recommend watching this movie. However, I do encourage you to see it if you can tolerate several F-bombs and a few torture scenes. It’s a great movie with an excellent storyline and deep, meaningful characters. It’s suspenseful at times, and stressful in “paperwork” scenes. It’s just a great film. No wonder it’s been nominated for Oscar Awards.

Is there a major world event that has been shown on the news that you think would make a good movie? What is it and what would make it a good movie? Comment below and tell me why!

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