Oh, right, we’re talking about the movie.
That’s going to be a word you hear a lot when discussing Zero Dark Thirty. If you’re even reading this review, you’re probably familiar with the controversies surrounding the film. They’re not worthy of a tangent. The idea that this film was pro-Obama is laughable now that the full film has been released. It doesn’t glorify torture. I was cringing through the waterboarding scene because that’s what Kathryn Bigelow wants you to do. Depicted as a necessary evil? I can see how people can find that a bit worrisome, but it’s just a movie. If you can’t separate art from reality, you shouldn’t be allowed to watch films in the first place.
Anyway, I found Zero Dark Thirty to be immensely disappointing. The bookends are very powerful: torture scenes at the start that are painful, and the eventual raiding of the compound to kill Osama bin Laden, which is true edge-of-your-seat thriller material. I will also admit that while it shouldn’t play a role, seeing countless actors from my favorite TV shows added to my enjoyment. That said, the nearly two hours in between are weighed down by military jargon that most anyone will not understand. There is a lot of time spent with “bad guys” that doesn’t directly relate to the plot. There’s a scene where my friend and I knew about 3 minutes ahead of time that a set-up bomb was coming towards one of the supporting characters, and there were about 6 obvious sigh-inducing cues before we were proven right. That should never happen. Chastain is wonderful; her character is not. An independent woman with no true backstory, great at her job, always right and speaks her mind at every opportunity, she fully crosses over into obnoxious protagonist territory halfway through the film.
The direction is very similar to Bigelow’s Best Picture-winning film The Hurt Locker. It’s really, really slow, and obviously the setting is similar. But it seems she was trying a bit harder to make an action-thriller here, rather than to develop her characters like she did last time. I like action, and I like thrillers, but Zero Dark Thirty pitches itself as a realistic film. The action isn’t really there, and the thrills don’t arrive until the end, so what do I do with undeveloped characters for the first 120 minutes? And let’s not act like this is her second film; Bigelow has had a number of misfires in her 25+ years of directing. The results are underwhelming, especially when Chastain’s character, who is in nearly every scene since the beginning of the film, is a minor player at best in the dramatic finale. Zero Dark Thirty is a strange movie that will certainly get a lot of publicity when we really dig into awards season, but sadly it’s undeserved.
Zero Dark Thirty Rating: