Zero Dark Thirty * * 1/2
Director: Kathryn Bigelow.
Screenplay: Mark Boal.
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez, Harold Perrineau Jr, Stephen Dillane, Mark Duplass, Frank Grillo, Reda Kateb, Nash Edgerton, Jeremy Strong, Scott Adkins, John Barrowman.
So, after the Oscar winning heights of “The Hurt Locker“, director Kathryn Bigelow decides to stick to a winning formula and follow up that success with another war themed drama. Personally, I wasn’t keen on on her previous Oscar winning movie and I’m just as less enthusiastic about this one.
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden becomes the prime target following the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Heading the search operation is CIA intelligence analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain) who commits ten years to tracking him down, while others around her have their doubts and reservations. In 2011, her commitment pays off as she believes that he has been in hiding in Pakistan and a U.S. Navy SEAL team are sent in to capture or kill.
Beginning with the events of 9/11, the film fast forwards 2 years where it dares to expose American torture tactics to find the culprits of that fateful attack on New York. Although distressing, they are brilliantly and bravely captured which has led to some controversy on Bigelow’s part. The film, basically, doesn’t waste time in getting down to business and although the early stages consist of interrogations, Bigelow does well to maintain interest and tension. After this, the film gets bogged down in an attempt to capture recent events that require much more than a 2 1/2 hour movie to sum up.
Apparently, the script of this film was changed during the filming; the original story was the hunt for bin Laden but his (supposed) capture and death occurred before the film was completed. As a result, we have the ending to this manhunt. Personally, I don’t buy bin Laden’s capture. That’s not to say that I think he’s still roaming the earth. He may well be dead but I just don’t believe that events played out the way we have been told they did. It stinks to me that we are supposed to buy the – almost hush-hush – news coverage of such a high-profile event in current affairs. Sadam Hussein’s death was plastered all over the media but with bin Laden we are to just accept with very little evidence produced. Call me a conspiracy theorist but I can’t (and won’t) readily accept everything I’m told in the media. I believe it to be western propaganda that only serves to instil a belief in people that an end to the conflict is near. People want to believe. People need to believe. Much has been said about the 10-year-long manhunt to capture and kill bin Laden but if, buffoonish, Bush Jr, wasn’t so hell bent on drilling for oil and finishing his dear old pappy’s lucrative business in Iraq then that time wouldn’t have passed.
Anyway, I digress. My write-up is becoming more about my personal beliefs than it is a film review. So let’s get back to the job at hand. This is a film that is, undoubtedly, well structured and captured but I found that it meandered and as a result, I began to write a big “lefty” spiel (which I have omitted here) on my opinion of the conflict that we, as the west, finds ourselves in. And the reason this happened? Frankly, it was because I was bored. It wasn’t until the hour mark that things begin to get interesting but just when it began to look good, it got bogged down in boardroom scenarios and endless eastern locations. I have been a big fan of Bigelow’s previous movies but her recent venture into political events doesn’t cut it for me. She’s a director that has vibrancy and energy that is hard to compete with but on recent evidence, she’s entering into a territory that doesn’t accentuate her skills.
What does work in this, is the performances; Jessica Chastain proves, once again, why she’s everywhere at the moment. Her progression from shrinking violet to doggedly determined shows good range and some supporting actors also deliver solid work; Jason Clarke (“Lawless“) is a standout in the earlier part of the movie and Kyle Chandler (“Super 8“) gets a chance to flex his acting chops in some tense verbal confrontations. James Gandolfini and Joel Edgerton are a couple of late inclusions and it’s only in the last half hour that Bigelow shows her abilities in staging the action set-pieces. By then, though, it’s too little too late. What she does do, in her defence, is portray the actions of soldiers less than heroic. Which is one of the few truths that she shows in the entire film. Another is the ambiguity in the identity of bin Laden. At one point Stephen Dillane’s character says “… bin Laden, do I give up all hope of possibly seeing a photograph of him?” Eh… I’m afraid so. As an audience, we have to, yet we’re still expected to believe that he was identified and located on a farmyard, killed and buried at sea and an agency expert visually confirmed his identity when she hadn’t, physically, ever laid eyes on bin Laden herself.
Gung-Ho, western propaganda at it’s most concentrated. Some of it is impressively handled but ultimately, it’s nonsense that masquerades as intelligent filmmaking. It’s far from it and another blip in Bigelow’s, seemingly, great reputation. As a surfer- dude once said, in her earlier psuedo-spiritual, action pinnacle… “Go back to the valley, man…“.