Sometimes films take on a gravitas maybe intended by the filmmakers and then again maybe forced on the film by detractors. Specifically Zero Dark Thirty comes to mind. Every CIA conspirator and torture advocate has crawled out of the woodwork claiming that while they haven’t (and won’t) see ZDT they want to slam it for either not telling the truth or proclaiming same.
Can you recall anybody criticizing Safe House (CIA actioner with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds) with the vehemence seemingly reserved for ZDT for its no-holds barred scenes of water boarding? Or how about similar spook tactics in The Bourne Ultimatum? Zero Dark Thirty is certainly a fictionalized version of real events, and because it takes a glance without glamour at a shadowy world of subterfuge (read: James Bond without the gadgets and snark) some people think that it’s the antithesis of next month’s A Good Day To Die Hard.
Zero Dark Thirty delivers what Kathryn Bigelow does best: action filmmaking. One need only to point to Point Break Bigelow’s 1991 bank robber surf flick that’s really never been outdone to this day. ZDT starts as a lament and then follows with procedural events that take place over the greater part of a decade and then culminates in a secret mission to kill Bin Laden. ZDT even has a few laughs but they’re serious laughs like a terrorist not knowing who Gandalf is, or a particularly pithy retort to the age old query ‘Who are you?’
Sure there’s a lot of talky scenes and people pounding on desks (hello Argo) but the daily task of surveillance is punctuated in every reel by guys shooting people in hotels with machine guns, hotels being blown up by terrorists and even a car bomb that breaches an American base in Afghanistan. So by the exciting conclusion of ZDT, which depicts a room-by-room attack on a compound in Abottabad by a trained team of military killers, there’s almost a sense that you’re watching Kill Bin Vol. 1& 2 albeit with a realistic tone and handheld atmosphere.
Jessica Chastain toplines an amazing cast that includes Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Ehle, and several other familiar faces in nominal roles. One standout is Jason Clarke who indoctrinates Chastain into the dark art of torture at secret locations in Pakistan or Poland even all the while just wanting to shave his beard and wear a tie and sit behind a desk at Langley. There’s a lot of tough and technical language used throughout ZDT yet somehow the line that sticks with you afterwards is Clarke saying, “You lie to me, and I hurt you.”
- Michael Bergeron