Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
“‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is factually inaccurate, and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Usama Bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film’s fictional narrative.” – Part of a statement from Sens. John McCain, Diane Feinstein, and Carl Levin to Sony Pictures, disputing the role waterboarding played in the discovery of Osama bin Laden. The CIA Chief issued a rare statement to the same effect.
Is that it? If, after depicting a decade-long hunt for America’s greatest enemy, these Senators only contend one small piece of the narrative story…well, folks, I’m impressed. Using de-classified first-hand accounts from those who were there (including the covert journalist, still undercover, who’s depicted by Chastain), director Bigelow & screenwriter Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”) create in “Zero Dark Thirty” a slow-burning fuse that explodes on the screen in a blaze.
Chastain, as CIA operative Maya (an Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning role), is a sassy sparkplug as fiery as her auburn red hair. “I’m the mother-fucker that found this place, sir,” she tells the CIA Director (Gandolfini), referring to bin Laden’s now-infamous Abbottabad compound. But she still cringes when she sees a detainee being waterboarded. And she still sheds a tear when her colleague is killed by a suicide bomber. Maya is a conflicted character, stuck somewhere between innocent civilian and callused interrogator. Chastain, herself in a phase somewhere between acting amateur and A-list superstar, is willing to put herself out there for her role. It pays off. Big time.
Mark Boal doesn’t let us feel all warm and fuzzy about the killing of UBL. In the same way he made us question how we felt about soldiers in “The Hurt Locker,” he makes us look inside ourselves to question if, maybe, we should feel bad for feeling good about the death of bin Laden. “Zero Dark Thirty” is both insightful and enlightening, a movie that inevitably feeds us a helping of history we didn’t know (and maybe still don’t) and forces us to question our own ideals. Good movies challenge the way we think about things.
But don’t consider this a watertight recommendation. “Zero Dark Thirty” is slow. Like “Lincoln,” it was a lot of talking. The story was made for the big screen, but it’s a ten-year saga bouncing between a half-dozen countries. Since it covers so much ground – geographically and chronologically – “Zero Dark Thirty” employs a sort of episodic format, breaking the narrative into clearly defined segments that let us know a new chapter is being told, a new page being turned. Katey Rich, movie critic for “The Guardian,” may have said it best when she suggested it “may be easier to respect than enjoy.”
Is “Zero Dark Thirty” all flash and no bang? Could we, maybe, just be feeling some leftover pride from the raid that occurred less than 2 years ago? Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Chastain), and Best Original Screenplay (Filled with accurate tradecraft, but I still don’t know about this one…), Oscar doesn’t think so. IMDb users – known for pumping up movies from their release date and slowly watching them fall – hold the two-year-old “Hurt Locker” at the same rating as “Zero Dark Thirty.” In time, Bigelow/Boal’s first hit (a Best Picture/Best Director/Best Screenplay winner, I’ll remind you) will come out on top. But if you call yourself an American, you owe it to yourself to make that judgment call on your own.