Customer Review

23 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So many conflicting emotions, 29 Jan 2013
This review is from: Zero Dark Thirty [DVD] [2012] (DVD)
Zero Dark Thirty
Dir. Kathryn Bigelow / Cert 15 / 157 minutes

The following review contains spoilers.

Zero Dark Thirty is a difficult, demanding film which sees Kathryn Bigelow follow up her 2009 Oscar winner The Hurt Locker with a docudrama that chronicles the real-life decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden. As the final credits rolled sombrely and the lights in the cinema came back up, I turned to my viewing companion and remarked `I really don't know what to make of that'. Several hours later, having had time to go away and digest everything I saw, I'm still stumped, still undecided. I'm hoping that writing this review will enable me to order my thoughts and settle upon some sort of verdict, but at the time of writing, I'm as yet uncertain how to grade the piece in terms of a star-rating. I must ask that you please bear with me.

I suppose the most important thing to point out is that the film doesn't put a foot wrong technically. In terms of direction, Bigelow's vision is never anything less than absolutely breathtaking. Anybody who is familiar with her back catalogue will know that she has a real flair for intense, cinematic action sequences and on that score, her latest effort does not disappoint. Zero Dark Thirty delivers in spades and can proudly stand alongside any one of her previous films. Its set-pieces are as taut and slick and fast-paced as you could want, perfectly judged, expertly sustained. Likewise, Mark Boal's intelligent screenplay is similarly accomplished and efficient; it never slows down, never stops for breath and manages to build tension throughout, culminating in a 45-minute final act that is heart-in-the-mouth, edge-of-your-seat thrilling... I think. I have no problem with performances either, far from it. In fact, will somebody just give Jessica Chastain that Oscar already! And Jason Clarke does some fantastic work; both when bearded and when clean-shaven.

So, you're probably thinking, if the performances are so unanimously strong and the direction is so impeccable, then what have you got to complain about? What could possibly be missing? There is no denying that what we have here is a brilliant, often compelling slice of film-making from a master director who is in complete control of what she's doing. Surely, our job as an audience is to sit back and gratefully marvel? True, the interrogation scenes are electrifying, the torture scenes early in the movie are effectively shocking, and my God, the final raid on the Abbottabad compound is freaking incredible... but, yes, regrettably, there is a `but' coming now. Whilst I admired the film enormously, whilst I wanted to love it, I just couldn't and didn't. Much has been made of the subject matter with many critics voicing concern. Controversy quickly arose regarding the so-called glorification of torture. Was Bigelow condoning it? Was she presenting monsters as heroes? Were those inflicting the torturer worse than those subjected to it? Reviewers heatedly debated as to whether or not it was too soon to dramatise an event that was still more current affairs than history, so much so that the film arrived in cinemas under a bit of a black cloud. Sight & Sound Magazine likened the climatic raid sequence to that of playing Call of Duty on an Xbox console, arguing that it forced us to put our hands on the trigger and turned gunplay into a pleasurable past-time. Rightly or wrongly, I have no issue with any of the above (nor did I feel I was being manipulated at any point). In fact, I'm in favour of a text that provokes and challenges. No, my problem I'm afraid, is an emotional one.

I found that I was able to engage with Zero Dark Thirty, but only superficially, purely on a basic, passive level. It was a feast for the eyes, but gave nothing to the heart. Whether or not, Bigelow intended for this to be the case and deliberately set out to put up a barrier between product and viewer, I'll never know. But for me, the movie maintains an elusive, aloof distance at all times, forever keeping its audience at bay. I wanted to be let in but the film shut the door in my face. All of the characters ignored me. None of them spoke to me. Therefore I had no entry point into the story, no frame of reference, absolutely no reason to care or invest. Zero Dark Thirty, for all its many, many strengths, is as cold as ice, unknowable, unlovable. There's something sterile and forensic about it that made me feel rather uncomfortable. If a film does its job properly, you lose yourself within its world. Watching Zero Dark Thirty, I was constantly aware of the giant screen keeping us apart. Admittedly, towards the end, I found myself tugged into the film, into the chaos of that final raid sequence - a small, claustrophobic space packed with bodies and gunfire and screaming and panic; and I found it made me feel queasy and I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.

It's hard to be critical of something when you're not entirely sure what the problem is, when there doesn't appear to be anything bad to say. How can I convince whoever reads this review when I'm not even sure I can convince myself? But, I suppose, I felt the same way Jessica Chastain's character did throughout the film. She was so focussed on the job at hand, so driven by her obsession to get her man that everything else, everything she felt, went by the wayside. She lost herself. She lost friends and seemed not to notice or care, so consumed was she that she forgot her feelings. They went on the backburner, saved for a later date when it was more convenient to emotionally respond. Like the film, she kept her distance, incomprehensible and detached, an enigma unto the end; an approach that worked fine for the character, but less successfully for the film. And then in the final moments, when you thought all was lost, it comes. What we've been waiting for. She breaks down. She grieves. She weeps. She is rewarded with long overdue emotional closure. In the end, she feels... something. It's just a shame that I, as a viewer, never did,
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Mar 2013 06:57:53 GMT
Last edited by the author on 22 Mar 2013 07:17:39 GMT
erugifog says:
I interpreted the film's final scene a bit differently. I didn't view the protagonist's tears as some sort of release of pent up emotions. Rather, to understand that moment, I believe you have to pay close attention to the film's final line. She boards the plane, and the pilot says to her, "I'll take you anywhere you want to go." She briefly ponders her options before realizing she has no answer for him. Pursuing Bin Laden had consumed her attention for so many years that she really had no life outside of that singular mission. The CIA had recruited her right out of high school, and she had done nothing her entire career but hunt for Bin Laden. We learned earlier in the film that she had no sex life much less a boyfriend. At that final moment of the film, with Bin Laden dead and her only mission in life accomplished, the pilot's simple offer brings home for her the reality that she now has nowhere to go. There is no life to go home to because she never took the time to build one. If she's grieving for anything, it seems to me it's for herself and what she has sacrificed personally to achieve her professional goals. At least that's how I viewed it.

I wonder if your ambivalence over the film isn't at least partly due to unresolved conflicts you might have over the morality of the interrogation tactics used to extract the information that ultimately led to Bin Laden's demise. On the one hand, our heart tells us one thing about how others, even criminals, ought to be treated. But intellectually, it becomes clear during the film that there is no obvious better method for extracting critical information from captured terrorists who are hell-bent on murdering innocent people. (Check out the film "Unthinkable" for an even starker depiction of that very issue.)

Aside from any conflicts you might have regarding interrogation tactics, this film just isn't a feel-good sort of flick with characters you connect with. It's a rather raw look at how the US intelligence community tracked down the most wanted mass murderer of our day and how the SEALs killed him.

Posted on 22 Mar 2013 07:04:25 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 22 Mar 2013 07:05:40 GMT]

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Mar 2013 09:45:12 GMT
Last edited by the author on 25 Mar 2013 09:46:43 GMT
I agree with both posts. I think that yes, the lead character was icy cold and hard to like. Determined and courageous, yet distant and void of empathy. Her emotional collapse at the finale kept me thinking...has she arrived at the conclusion she desired. Is retribution the answer? My opinion still stands on this matter... With Bin Laden "dead", are we really satisfied and when will we be?

Posted on 14 Apr 2013 00:48:03 BDT
Your review is exactly why I posted my review ("Over your head?"), because it seems you have missed the point.

This film is meant to be emotionally detached, it is meant to feel hollow, the characters personal lives are ignored on purposes.

Think of the film in the restaurant when we think we are finally going to witness her making a friend and showing us her personal life. It is a masterful technique to tease us with that to then end it dramatically and prematurely.

You have missed all of this, because otherwise you would have interpreted the ending properly. She is not overcome with joy at being rewarded for her efforts, she is overcome with the fact she has no home, no friends, no goal.

It should have clicked for you in that moment, she didn't break down when she saw the body, she didn't break down with the team, she didn't celebrate. She cried quietly, alone, on an aeroplane when asked "where do you want to go?"

How many clues do you need?

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jul 2013 15:52:37 BDT
I think J. Winterflood is right that the film is mean to be detatched (not sure why you felt it necessary to be so patronising to the original reviewer though). I think the original review simply didn't enjoy the film because fo the lack of emotional attachment, which is fair enough. Personally I liked this aspect of the film. I'm so glad it wasn't made into some cheesy Hollywood nonsense.

Posted on 2 Aug 2013 14:05:23 BDT
Last edited by the author on 2 Aug 2013 14:05:56 BDT
I don't think the original post misses the point regarding the emotion. He/She doesn't mention tears of joy. The use of the word "rewarded" is possibly misplaced, but it is too straightforward to see it as 'she has nowhere to go and can't answer the question and breaks down'.
Whenever anyone devotes time and soul to a project (a marathon, a mountain climb, a college course, a piece of art, etc) there is always an anticlimax at the end. The longer spent and more devoted you have been on a project, the bigger the sense of loss when it comes to an end. Maya has the mother of all comedowns ahead of her. Her tears on the plane are just the start. However, to suggest that she has nothing, which some posts are implying, is incorrect.

For one, she has a job. CIA people have salaries and commitments to turn up at work, I would imagine. I can't remember any mention of her contracting on the Osama Bin Laden case.
Secondly, she makes friends easily. People like her. Not only that, people respect her. Usually people in this position will be OK and have a fair share of people around them. I admit that sheer brilliance can also be coupled with lonliness, but there is nothing here to suggest she is more brilliant than her peers and would tire in their company. She has a stubborn determination, but this doesn't cause lonliness. It just makes it hard to switch off and persue normal life. However, lots of friendships are based on work. It is a big part of life.

I think the review was well written and he has a valid point about the lack of emotion. I am a big fan of The Wire. I admit there is hours of television to cover a short period of time, compared with 2.5 hours to cover ten years, but there is very little going on in Season 1 of the wire which is not directly related to the topic (drug dealing) - However, the emotional connection with nearly all of the characters is huge. Just because hands are dirty, doesn't mean people don't have souls and I think that is what the original review was getting at.

I personally liked the film, but preferred The Hurt Locker. Quite possibly because it was an altogether warmer affair (about the most deadly job in the world)
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