One of the biggest and most controversial movies of the year is Zero Dark Thirty from Director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker). The movie’s production caused quite a stir from the conservative media (What doesn’t get their panties in a bunch?) when it was revealed that the CIA was providing Bigelow’s team unprecedented access to information regarding the killing of American enemy number one Osama Bin Laden.
The movie seems to be in love with the idea of torture. The entire first 30 or 40 minutes is scene after scene of some guy being tortured by Dan (Jason Clarke) the CIA “spook.” There’s no sense of urgency to it, no sense of “we need this information now!” It feels gratuitous and unnecessary. I think the audience will get the point after 10 minutes we don’t need to see 40 minutes of it. On the surface it is hard not to think that Bigalow wants to make the point that torture was the key to getting Osama Bin Laden.
There’s an impressive and somewhat shocking moment in the film where Maya is at a restaurant with a friend when a bomb goes off. This is meant to show that terrorism can strike at anytime, and anywhere. The movie also starts showing an escalation of random incidents. By doing this is the movie coyly saying that torture didn’t stop these bombings? It seems like she’s trying to have it both ways.
With all the inside access and the idea that this movie is supposedly based on “facts,” we don’t really learn a “lot” about the search. Yes we find out the nuts and bolts of it, but a lot of the “key” moments in the search are barely touched on or are given a 2 minute “throwaway” line. How did the Obama Administration’s decision to “end the torture” and go for a more investigative approach impact the search? What was the internal debate like to go in like – we get a brief scene in the CIA, but barely a mention of the White House? We spend too little time with Seal Team Six.
Jessica Chastain does a nice job as Maya, a CIA Analyst who maintains the hunt for OBL, long after everyone else has “given up” or at the very least no longer “interested” in the search. The problem with Maya as a character is, this is her sole focus. She has no life, no friends, nothing but the hunt. About 90 minutes into the movie Bigelow gives Maya some additional depth, but by then it is too late to really care about her. It feels forced as if these few minutes of her actually “smiling” or having a “life” outside of work were the results of studio notes. I would love to talk about the other actors in this film but other than Jason Clarke as Dan, the Government spook who does all the actual torturing we don’t find out about anyone else in this movie.
This subject was better handled in National Geographic’s Seal Team Six: The Hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Bigelow has hamstrung herself by not committing to a viewpoint or at the very least showing all sides of this. Instead she has created a dry by the numbers, cold, emotionally inert, just the “facts” procedural drama.
Final Grade C-