Monday, February 18, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

By Jon Gallagher

Zero Dark Thirty (Columbia, 2012) Director: Kathryn Bigelow. Cast: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Reta Kateb, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, & Jennifer Ehle. Color, 157 minutes.

I went into this movie expecting great things. After all, it’s been nominated (along with EIGHT other films) for Best Picture this year, and Chastain, the female lead, is up for Best Actress.

I came away a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the movie, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, or as much as I had hoped.

One thing I was curious about was the storyline itself. National Geographic had already shot and aired a movie based on the hunt for and the killing of Osama bin Laden. It was okay, but focused more on the team of Navy SEALS who went into the Pakistani compound on this mission.

This movie starts on 9/11 with some sound bites from that awful day in 2001. It then follows the CIA’s efforts, particularly those of a woman named Maya who had made it her life’s work to find the world’s most wanted terrorist. We see her on her first assignment, watching as a seasoned CIA vet uses torture to extract information from detainees. We follow her as she realizes what it will take to get information from dedicated Al Qaeda members. As the years pass by, she becomes more frustrated, not only with the lack of intelligence coming out of Afghanistan, but finally with the U.S. government and their unwillingness to act. More than four months pass between the time she first notifies her boss that she thinks she knows where bin Laden is holed up and the time that action is taken to capture or kill him.

Even though the two films tell the same story with the same end result, the points of view are entirely different, even during the portion of Zero Dark Thirty when the raid takes place.

As for the movie itself, it’s another long one. The first hour gives us background and drags. I’m not sure we need to know or see quite as much as we do. Some of the scenes of the CIA torturing terrorists might cause some sympathy in the wrong direction. The authenticity is good, with many of the informants using heavily-accented English. But the accent, combined with the forced delivery after having been tortured, makes them extremely difficult to understand.

The second hour of the movie picks up quite a bit. It’s after terrorists begin bombing others and targeting characters in the movie that the plot seems to move along.

The last 30 minutes or so are dedicated to the raid on bin Laden’s compound. Shot in night-vision green, it’s very hard to see, and although very authentic, not very satisfying by the end. Maybe it’s because the episode is so fresh in my mind (after all, it only happened two years ago), there wasn’t much drama to it. I knew going in that we got bin Laden and that none of the SEALs were hurt, so unlike Argo, the suspense element was sorely missing.

The big question that remained was, “How are they going to show bin Laden being killed.” I’ll only say that I was disappointed.

Although it’s based on real events, I’m sure most of the characters are composites of real life people, done for their personal safety. Chastain does an incredible job with her role and if she walks away with the Best Actress award, you’ll hear no arguments from me. Clarke handles Chastain’s mentor role superbly, generating all sorts of emotions from the audience with his portrayal. We fear him, we loathe him, yet we like him. It was a solid performance as well.

The film is rated R due to the violence and language and rightfully so. It’s not a movie for kids, and I wouldn’t be interested in letting teenagers see it either. The length brought it down a couple of notches on my grading scale, not so much because it was so long, but because the first hour was boring. It was nominated for Best Picture, but all those I’ve seen in that category are better than this.

I’ll give it a solid C due to the storyline and the performances of Chastain and Clarke. I won’t be renting it when it comes to DVD and I certainly won’t be purchasing it.

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