Saturday, January 12, 2013

Review: "Zero Dark Thirty"

Just the other night, I watched the ending of "Inglourious Basterds". While it was a television edit, it was still pretty graphic: people burning to death, Hitler getting machine gunned to pieces, a movie theater exploding, etc. My dad channel surfed to it, but kept searching as he didn't like the violence in it (this coming from a guy who would go to sleep while watching "Red Dragon"). However, my father is in the minority, as most people really got a kick out of this rewriting of history. In real life, Hitler committed suicide, thus robbing the world of inflicting brutality on him. How unfair.

It's not enough that this monster is dead; he MUST be killed Charles Bronson style, and we MUST be able to experience that. I'm not suggesting that Tarantino made his film solely to cater to our lust for satisfying revenge, but we do eat up that kind of stuff, whether it's reality or a movie. It's like addictive fast food; catharsis on demand!

I got to see "Zero Dark Thirty" recently. You want to revel in some sweet payback? Wait for "Inglourious Basterds" to come back on.

Unlike what happened with Hitler, we actually got to kill bin Laden. And, of course, a movie would be made about the operation. I thought about a WWE Studios flick, where pro wrestlers would star in an 80's throwback men on a mission style story. Don't judge me for going primal... I know you wanted to see his death, even if its just a recreation. The movie Kathryn Bigelow gave us - a based on actual events style retelling of the hunt for the most wanted man in the world -  works as an indictment of us wanting to cum to a climax. Any climax. Wow, did I just type that? Yes, and I don't regret it.

The story takes place over the course of a decade, following the character of Maya, a CIA agent promoted to this investigation. Played with a stone cold determination to close the case by Jessica Chastain, our protagonist is wanting that climax as much as us. But, as the movie progresses, I wonder if Maya is capable of achieving satisfaction. She is a pale skinned loner, with nothing known about her other than her job. A desktop wallpaper on her computer shows an image of her with a child, but it is so distorted and blurry. We never learn her last name, and it's possible she is working under an alias. Does she have a personal reason for finding bin Laden, like a family member who died in 9/11 or something? All we know is that this is her task, and she must complete it.

At one point, a superior tells her that she is "chasing a ghost". I think that Maya is, herself, a ghost. Not literally, but she certainly acts like a spirit doomed to walk the planet until her purpose is fulfilled. When her job is done, she boards a plane as the only passenger. When asked where she would like to go, she has no answer. With a moment to herself, she sheds a tear, but I don't think it is from exhaustion or happiness; she has no one left to chase, and is finished. The fact that she got her target isn't enough; what's next?

Now, our hero didn't get that tingling sensation from the conclusion - what about us?

The raid sequence is dark, quiet and full of unparalleled tension. But, much like the style of the film, it is presented with no fanfare. Don't expect slo mo shots of bin Laden getting shot or superimposed images of American flags; it goes off in a straight forward procedural manner. The highly anticipated moment comes and goes in a flash. The seals execute their job and leave, almost as if they weren't even around. Kinda like a ghost.

The protagonist, her investigation, the raid itself and even the torture bits - which are not shown in a positive light, but rather used to establish our governments' wanting of revenge as extended to interrogation tactics (quite a mouthful) - all point to exposing and questioning our individual and collective craving for catharsis, no matter the cost. To do such a thing through such a high profile movie is nothing short of bold.

I ought to get around to reviewing Tarantino's latest, "Django Unchained". In it, we get revenge on slave owners. "RoboCop" style blood spurts are plentiful. Did your pants just get tighter?

5/5 *'s


  1. Considering how much hype surrounded this movie, and the fact that it was supposed to be THE movie of the year, I was disappointed. The plot was meticulously planned out, but the biggest flaw was with the protagonist who was poorly written.

  2. I agree - despite attention to detail, the plot and main character were both underwritten. But, I think that was the point. There is nothing else to Maya except for this case. That last shot of her on the plane is haunting.


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