Saturday, January 12, 2013

Movie Review of Zero Dark Thirty

I saw Zero Dark Thirty in the theater this afternoon.

It is not really a story of Bin Laden. In my view, he was incidental. The narrative was about Maya, a new CIA operative who spends a good portion of her career pursuing a target. At first, her motive seems to be duty--she's doing her part to bring to justice those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. After the death of several of her coworkers, her pursuit becomes personal. She risks her career and life to achieve her objective. During the film, which spans over a period of ten years, you see her progress from a young, reserved operative who finds it hard to stomach the tactics used to obtain "intel" to an aggressive, move-heaven-and-earth-to-achieve-the-objective veteran.

The story is told in chapters,with chapter "titles" appearing on the screen. This was a little distracting in that it caused some discontinuity in the narrative. However, due to the details of the sequence of events, it seemed necessary in order for the viewer to understand the progression and timeline of the movie.

The movie is quite long--about 2 hours and 40 minutes. And except for the occasional explosion of terrorist attack, there was no action. I started squirming in my seat after about an hour and a half. The first two hours and ten minutes were build-up for the climax of the last 30 minutes (the military operation). The first two plus hours served to show 1) what lengths the CIA (on behalf of the US) went to in order to get intelligence (including "water boarding) and 2) political machinations of the intelligence community. The writer and director did a good job of conveying the humanity of detainees during interrogation. This view of humanity was offset with graphic displays of violence by the terrorists.

Although the build-up was very long, I believe shortening it would have detracted from the final scenes, particularly Maya's reaction to the accomplished mission in the closing moments of the movie. This woman spent a good amount of her career working on one objective. It had cost her dearly in terms of lack of relationships, loss of coworkers/friends, etc. Then, what she had worked toward for so many years, was done. Jessica Chastain did a great job portraying Maya and the crush of overwhelming emotions she must have felt. The movie concluded with Maya boarding a C-130 transport (I'm not military, but I think that's what is was). The pilot told her she was the only passenger and that she must be an important person. He then asks her, "Where do you want to go?" Maya does, perhaps can't, respond.

The only real critique I have of the movie, other than its length and use of chapter titles, was the portrayal of the SEAL team during the operation. They were portrayed, to some degree, in my opinion as 1) almost sloppy--militarily undisciplined at times (almost casual) during the raid on the compound, and 2) as calloused killers who enjoyed taking lives. For example, two SEALs bragged to one another they "popped" so-and-so while still involved in the raid. And upon returning, they were all giving each other high-fives. I don't have experience with the military, and other movies I've seen about elite military units may have been cleaned up a lot, but I can't imagine a military unit being as cavalier about killing people, even terrorists.

Otherwise, this was a decent movie. I can't say it was a "must see" as described by fans and critics. Nor do I think it will garner many, if any awards.

Normally, a typical guy would walk away from a military action movie with testosterone pumping. That wasn't the case here. Even though there were some cool first-person shots of the SEAL team during the incursion, I left feeling deflated--as if I were anticipating this grand finale that never really materialized. I really think that was intentional by the director. As a nation, we rallied behind the idea of "getting" the man behind 9/11. Then when it happened, we almost feel cheated out of the "thrill" of revenge we thought we'd experience. Maybe that's sort of how Maya felt as she sat on the plane, feeling the weight of the closure of the many years of single-minded focus, and unable to gain any sense of satisfaction.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review Steven. Zero Dark Thirty is a very solid manhunt unfolding in a thrilling and entertaining way. It's not exactly '24', but the realism and implied accuracy does make it interesting to watch play out.