War movies have had a bad habit over the years of putting extreme political views ahead of actually telling a story. Thankfully, we have a director like Kathryn Bigelow who can put the blinders on, and give us something refreshing, something that seems nearly impossible: a film about a modern war that is not top-heavy with political preaching and agendas. Zero Dark Thirty is not a great movie, and certainly not worth all the hype surrounding it. I would render a guess that if this film had a fictitious plot, or was about a manhunt of someone of a lesser caliber of evil, it would have been panned by critics before reaching a slightly positive edge. Unlike The Hurt Locker, this is not an action movie, nor is it a “war” movie in the strict sense, though I have loosely labeled it as such earlier, because it is difficult to find another moniker for it. This is a film that is effective in telling the story of the ten-year long hunt for Osama Bin Laden. It is nothing more, nothing less. There is hardly anything artistic about this film except the way it sticks to a narrative, almost documentary flow, jumping from person to person, event to event. While parts of it were entertaining (such as the final “kill” scene and all of its deliberately paced build-up), I must admit that the scope of this film was almost too big for its own good. Cramming ten years of information, facts, statistics, and repetitive location settings begins to make your head spin, though it never gets entirely too much to handle. Perhaps this would have worked better as a two or three part HBO mini-series.
Through the tangled web of this massive cast, the one character who is a mainstay is Jessica Chastain, as Maya, a CIA Agent hunting down Bin Laden out of Pakistan. Again, I do not see why she received so much hype for her role. We come to a second instance of, “Good, not great”. Is she a strong female character who knows what she wants, and is always seeming to be in charge of her fate? Yes, but with the way people have been praising her, women in particular, you would think that such a character never existed on film before. She is never quite convincing in her role, and I just could not get the hang of her character. She was not bad, but there are quite a few actresses I would have cast over her. As for the supporting cast, none of them really stand out in any way, and are not even worth a mention, except for Jason Clarke, who is semi-believable as Chastain’s co-worker, who drifts in and out of the film.
In getting back to what I said earlier, about this film being refreshing in the sense that it is not political, perhaps that is the reason why it was condemned by people as being “pro-torture”. I would like to address those people now, because while there are scenes of various forms of torture, including water-boarding, I was never really hit with a pro-torture feeling. Granted, this film does not condemn it, but its not like it praises it or shows it in a positive light. Zero Dark Thirty goes out of its way to say, “This is what we did. These are the results. Let history be our judge.” Is torture wrong? Yes, but I still applaud Kathryn Bigelow for taking this unpopular approach. The same mentality is taken in regards to political parties and presidents. Bush and Obama are mentioned once each by name and are seen only in stock footage of newsreels played on background televisions. Neither credit nor criticism is dealt to either one.
As for what you can expect or look forward to in this movie, it is pretty difficult to say. The glowing cinematic achievement of this film is its editing, but not much else. Because the characters are fictitious or not elaborated on, the button police might have a sour taste in their mouths. For those who love the “techy” aspects of war, I suppose they will have hit the motherload with a viewing of this film. The last half hour or so involving the decision to go in for the kill is superb, because of the tension in the air and the action involved when they break into the compound. That whole portion of the movie was actually the slowest, yet I thought it was the best, maybe because for the first time, it settles down and we know exactly what to look for. Had the whole movie been about just the months leading up to the kill, not the whole decade, it would have been a home run. It is worth a watch, especially for those of us who were old enough to remember September 11th, and all the events of the last ten years, culminating with the killing of Bin Laden, because it is rare that we get a chance to see our history told to us. This is not something from twenty years ago, it happened only yesterday. For that, despite its flaws, I give the film an A for effort, and a numerical score of 7 out of 10.