Garnering accolades for its thrilling portrayal of real events, and congressional criticism for its intense torture scenes, “Zero Dark Thirty” created quite the buzz.
The film primarily focuses on the aggressive and motivated Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA operative in charge of gathering any and all intelligence on Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Determined to locate bin Laden by any means necessary, she chases lead after lead until she eventually pinpoints the terrorist leader at his Pakistani compound. Of course, we all know what happens next.
I wanted to like the film, but it was like watching a three-hour episode of “24” with less compelling characters. The bulk of the movie consists of Maya gathering intel and interrogating various Al Qaeda members.
But while the movie is fast-paced and maybe interesting to some moviegoers, I was expecting more.
Characters are excruciatingly one-dimensional, and all we really know about them is that they are determined to hunt down and kill bin Laden. There is no real back story or character development that allows us to identify with them in any way. Even Maya, a role which has earned Chastain an Oscar nomination, is a character with little depth.
I was also disappointed that most of the events of the movie were dealt with in a cursory way, particularly the torture scenes. Though these scenes were certainly gripping, they are simply treated as a means to an end. There is no moral discussion or any attempt to make sense of the madness.
The depiction of torture generated its fair share of controversy, especially among senior Senate officials who felt that the film glorified torture as a necessary means for discovering bin Laden’s location. Shortly after the release of the film, a Senate panel was created to review the filmmakers’ access to CIA documents and whether they misused the information they were given.
While the filmmakers insisted that the movie was a dramatization and that they were not guilty of any misrepresentation, many senators felt that the film was grossly incorrect and they reiterated that bin Laden’s location was discovered without any use of torture. Whatever the case, torture has played a role in America’s war on terror and should have been dealt with on a deeper level.
The film does have redeeming qualities, though. Director Kathryn Bigelow, who won the Academy Award for Best Director for “The Hurt Locker,” does a great job of not politicizing the situation, which is all too common in Hollywood. Besides a brief background shot of President Barack Obama speaking on TV, neither Bush or Obama are mentioned. I was pleased to see that Bigelow didn’t make it a point to criticize Bush for invading Iraq or shower praise on Obama for the death of bin Laden, as either would certainly have taken away from the film’s focus.
Also, I felt that the climatic compound raid scene was spectacularly done. With expert cinematography and stunning visual effects, Bigelow does a great job of capturing the intensity and chaos without overdoing it.
The last scene aside, I was not drawn into “Zero Dark Thirty” the way I expected. Perhaps my expectations were too high going into the movie, but it simply failed to deliver.