We saw “Zero Dark Thirty” yesterday; here are my thoughts on it in a contrived question-and-answer format.
First things first, does it constitute an apologia for torture?
Yeah, I think it kind of does. I don’t want to spend too much time on this, because it’s just one of a bunch of issues, but there it is. The movie definitely shows torture and “enhanced interrogation techniques” as integral to picking up the little leads that eventually lead to the killing of Bin Laden. And you could make the argument that the film is just showing what happened without making a moral judgment, but it seems like most people say that’s a very skewed version of what happened. Specifically, that torture did NOT lead to the identification of the courier that led to Bin Laden. Also, the movie doesn’t show any of the false positives and red herrings that came from torture, just the ones that led to something real, and that constitutes an argument being made by the filmmakers, whether they realize it or not. Exclusion of facts can make an argument just as much as inclusion.
Well okay, if you can put that aside, is it a good movie?
Ultimately, no, not really. I was certainly never bored while watching it. But it’s one of the most television-like movies I’ve ever seen. There’s no character development of any kind, it’s a straight-up procedural. Track down the bad guy and get him. The last 40 minutes or so which show the actual raid on the compound is riveting. But that’s because we’ve all wanted to see some version of what went down ever since the announcement. And this is a competent, big budget dramatization of the seals going in and being bad-ass. (Though Andy from Parks and Recreation being there was a genuine problem for my suspension of belief.) But it’s more like a very good History Channel reenactment than anything really cinematic. And the two hours or so that come before are interesting, but like I said, kind of torture-y and with no actual characters who you identify with or care about — it’s about tracking down clue after clue, but the people doing the tracking are ciphers. For what it’s worth, I think “The Hurt Locker” was a MUCH better movie, and I’m a little mystified by how much acclaim this one is getting.
Well what about Jessica Chastain? Isn’t she amazing and Oscar-worthy?
Oh yeah! But not in this particular movie. Not her fault, I don’t think, her character is very strange. The filmmakers make a very conscious decision to limit what you know about the protagonist. Maybe because she’s not a real person? Maybe because she’s supposed to represent an amalgam of a lot of different people? I’m not sure. But you never find out anything about our hero, “Maya.” She’s dogged and determined and follows leads that nobody else will. But you don’t know anything about her background, her motivations, her last name, whatever. And it’s implied in the movie that those things don’t really exist. She’s so devoted to her work that she has no friends and she’s at a loss for what to do with herself when OBL is finally killed. But since we know so little about her, it’s hard to care. She’s like the ultimate G-man in some Hoover-produced propaganda flick, not a real character. So many of these choices are mysterious to me. Why make the movie so centered around some very boring imaginary character if she doesn’t have any arc or development?
This all sounds terrible, was seeing this movie a miserable experience?
No! It was interesting and thought-provoking. I just certainly don’t think this was the best movie of the year, as many other people seem to. And I don’t think I’d recommend that anyone see this on the big screen. You won’t be missing anything on Netflix.
How many stars do you give it, out of five?
Two and a half?