INTERROGATOR: When was the last time you saw an overrated Kathryn Bigelow movie!?
SUBJECT: Never, she’s great.
INTERROGATOR: When you lie to me, I hurt you.
SUBJECT: Ok, I’ll tell! It was The Hurt Locker! That movie was meh.
INTERROGATOR: What about the new one? Tell me about Zero Dark Thirty! Now, or I’ll waterboard you, bro!
SUBJECT: Please don’t! I’ll tell you, I’ll tell! I’d give it a “meh+”.
This year’s Oscar nominations are out, and Zero Dark Thirty is up for five awards. How many of those are deserved? In my opinion, two, both of them for editing. This ridiculously over-praised war thriller begins and ends on a high note, but the stuff in the middle? I almost fell asleep. I never do that.
The film comes right out of the gate with sound clips from 9/11. We’ve all heard this stuff before, but it serves to get the audience into the right mindset. To remind us about the stakes, and the importance of the events we’re about to see documented. The first third or so of the film revolves around Jessica Chastain’s character observing the torture sessions of suspected terrorists. The movie has received a fair amount of backlash for supposedly being pro-torture, but I find this first section to be the most enthralling. It’s never glorified, and although it gets results in the form of useful intel, we see the toll it takes on the ones inflicting the torture. I feel like the movie is successful in staying neutral in regards to having an agenda, and just attempting to tell it like it happened.
And of course, the movie ends with the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. The entire sequence is riveting and directed with remarkable finesse and efficiency. The film ends on a note of ambiguity, which is perfect for the subject matter. So essentially, I was completely captivated by about 100 minutes of the film’s 160-minute running time. But what about the rest? One critic described the middle section of Zero Dark Thirty as an elongated episode of Law & Order. And I’m inclined to agree. Maya chases down leads, they don’t turn out, she narrowly escapes death, rinse and repeat for an hour. The dialogue is weighed down by confusing intel and military jargon, and it just didn’t do it for me. The movie really lost me for that middle portion.
Jessica Chastain is God’s gift to my boner. When I heard Bigelow was doing another movie set in the Middle East, I was immediately wary. But once I found out Jessica was starring in it, my anticipation skyrocketed. When it was announced that she was up for Best Actress at the Oscars, I couldn’t wait to see her do her thing. To my dismay, I was not impressed. She’s perfectly serviceable as the determined Maya, but at no point in the movie did I find myself saying, “Wow, that’s some impressive acting.” Honestly, I think Jason Clarke gives the best performance in the film. He’s the most developed character, and the moral dilemma he faces in torturing captives is, for me, the heart of the movie. The film takes a very narrow and focused direction, and I think character development suffers because of that. There’s an obvious emotional disconnect between the audience and the characters for most of the movie, and I’m sure that’s intentional. But when you introduce new characters in the last section of the movie and then expect me to care when their lives are in jeopardy, it just doesn’t work.
Having said all of this, let me end this review by being blunt. This is a good movie. However, based on all of the praise and accolades, I expected an excellent movie. Bigelow’s direction is taut and there’s an obvious display of impeccable craft. But a movie needs more than that. The screenplay is too clinical, and the score is fairly generic. I enjoyed it, but Zero Dark Thirty will be going in the record books as one of my biggest disappointment of 2012.