Zero Dark Thirty is a very, very good film, but falls a few strokes away from the masterpiece it so obviously strived to be. It suffers not from political or the supposed endorsing of torture, but rather through a more filmic presentation aspect, and the portrayal of its characters. The characters themselves are all archetypes, plug and play ideals that are infused into a well-known story, but who fail to bring much to it as themselves or as a distinguished character. Don’t get me wrong, every single actor/actress plays their role terrifically, but the limit on their character and who he/she is, only gives them so much material to work with.
Jessica Chastain as Maya, our lead character, is very good but plays your prototypical tough woman in a man’s world who doesn’t take shit from anyone and is driven at all costs to achieve her goal (killing Bin Laden). Jason Clarke is supremely awesome and badass, and should be getting more film roles (like now, please), but he’s your cool and smooth guy unsure of Maya at first, but hey wouldn’t you know they become the best of friends and co-workers. Jennifer Ehle is Jessica, the motherly-type to Maya and carries an emotional link that needs to exploited to provide motivation (If it sounds vague, that’s how it was intended). Kyle Chandler and James Gandolfini both plays bosses at first adverse to Maya’s in-your-face manner and her lack of a filter, but eventually are destined to follow her lead. I could go on and on through each character, but this is already boring enough already. The pursuit and killing of Bin Laden is a great story, and one beautifully told by Bigelow, never boring, providing a balance of action and drama that never persuades you to check your watch. It’s just a shame then that the characters had to be so standard and repetitious where their cookie cutter mentality often clouded a great script.
If you write anything about Zero Dark Thirty these days you kinda have to talk about people complaining it’s liberalist propaganda and that it supports torture. *deep breath* I honestly see none of that here, and maybe because it’s a side I lean to more politically myself, but it seems to be telling the story quite similarly to how it happened in real life, or what has been revealed to us (ie. Us in the public don’t fully know the extent of the torture methods used, but we have a pretty good understanding how far they went). As for the torture scenes, I see no such methods of endorsing it, just showing it to its full brutal extent, and the extreme methods that U.S. agents when to in extracting information from known or suspected terrorists. Just because something is shown as realistic, and doesn’t adhere to a “Hollywood” glossing over, does not simply make the creators proponents of this activity, but rather proponents of realism. It also doesn’t make sense to me how the same right wing could criticize the film for being left wing propaganda while also claiming it supports torture, as the right wing under the Bush (and Cheney) administration were the ones implementing these torture methods. I really hope that these criticisms don’t overshadow the core elements of this story and film, but sadly it looks like that’s already happening. I don’t know how this story could be told anymore perfectly and to criticize the happenings in the film is basically to criticize real life, whether you like it or not, this is how this story went down, and kudos to Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal for not shying away from a sliver of it.
My second paragraph makes me seem like I was really down on the film, but I largely wasn’t, it was just some character ticks and beats that I’ve seen plenty of times before, as this story deserved a lot more justice in that department. Having remembered the morning of September 11th, hearing the news on a country radio station of all things as I rode the bus to school, this film holds a very interesting place in my head and heart. This is the first (at least to my recollection) historical film where I’ve actually lived through the whole ordeal and remember the majority of each of these events. It is a very weird thought to me that there are millions of young children who will see September 11th as a historical event, only knowing of it through textbooks and film. Zero Dark Thirty accurately and gracefully tells this story through its brutal truths and scars. There was torture and good and bad decisions made, but there remains a backbone that props up these happenings equally, and delivers us the defining story of the early century.