Sunday, April 07, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

7.5/10 - A dark, haunting film from director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, who also did The Hurt Locker. I would disagree that it glorifies or justifies torture. One might argue that Bigelow and Boal could have incorporated some CIA and military voices objecting to the torture while it was going on, as was the case in reality, but focusing on the question of torture at all detracts from the film and what's it's trying to say. For a more thorough look at the issue, I recommend Andrew O'Hehir's review, which I'll post below. Strictly from a cinematic standpoint, I think Zero Dark Thirty is a very good film that has some problems that keep it from being great. On the positive side, it's an interesting story (despite knowing what's going to happen in the end), with a strong score by Alexandre Desplat (who else!) and some excellent acting, especially by Jessica Chastain (as Maya, a CIA operative), Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, James Ganolfini (as Leon Panetta) and Mark Duplass in a small role. As with The Hurt Locker, Bigelow seems intrigued by the work that certain kinds of people do. In this case, it's the work of intelligence agents, politicians and the military in the process of finding and killing Bin Laden. And, to some degree, the work of the terrorists. Unfortunately, the narrative arc feels pretty flat after a while. It's more or less about Maya's obsession with tracking down Bin Laden, even though we never really know why she's so obsessed. She spends most of the film trying to get people to believe her, which may have been the case in real life, but it's not portrayed in a very dynamic way in the film. I fault Boal's writing and Bigelow's directing for that. Granted, it's a difficult story to tell, partly because we already know the ending and partly because so many people were involved in so many parts of the world, but ironically, there's not much cinematic tension, despite all of the natural tension of the story itself. I would also say that the first part of the film, which is a pretty disturbing depiction of the torture used on one of the detainees, and the last part, the raid on Bin Laden's compound, both go on too long and feel more clunky than they should. I understand why Bigelow spends so much time in the first case, because the torture sets up the moral ambiguity of the entire film, but it doesn't translate into good cinema, with some mediocre dialog. In the last part, I'm sure the actual raid was probably chaotic, but, hey, we're watching a movie. Trying to "replicate" that chaos may make sense from an intellectual standpoint, but it's still cinema. Don't try to fake us out by pretending it's "real." It's not. A little editing, please. Also, while it may sound ironic in this case, a little more humor could've helped. There are a couple of very rare moments; the film could've used some more. Overall, though, Zero Dark Thirty, is a powerful film that asks some disturbing questions. To steal a line from O'Hehir, it "holds a dark mirror before us; if what we see when we stare into it looks distorted and monstrous, it should also look familiar."

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