Zero Dark Thirty

After the events of September 11th 2001, the priority of the CIA understandably became apprehending Osama Bin Laden, the leader of the terrorist group behind the attacks. CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) joins a team involved with this, whose initial job is the interrogation of potential leads by any means necessary, but she soon becomes more involved with the bigger picture, and ultimately becomes the only person absolutely certain of the whereabouts of Bin Laden, culminating in a U.S. Navy Seal attack on the house he is believed to be staying in, some twelve years after the search began.
Before I get into this review, I’d like to have a little rant first. Near me, there are two cinemas run by the same company (it rhymes with Smodeon) only a couple of doors apart from each other, so let’s just assume they’re one big cinema with eleven screens. Zero Dark Thirty, a film which, upon it’s release, was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, five Baftas including Best Picture and Director and dozens of other awards, and was directed by Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) was released in this cinema, with several screenings every day. Unfortunately, it was released the same week as Lincoln, and as I can only really justify going to the cinema at most once a week due to various other commitments (like work and sleep), I had to make a decision, and decided that of these two films, Zero Dark Thirty would be the one more likely to retain it’s percentage of screening dominance in the following week. As it turns out this was a mistake, as the week after it’s initial release, this multi-award nominated and critically-acclaimed film had just one showing per day, and that was at 17:15. I finish work at 17:00, and it’s a good 45 minute cycle (including getting-changed-time) from my place of business to my local Smodeon, so even allowing for trailers and commercials there was no chance of me seeing this film at my convenience. Fortunately I was able to wrangle a viewing at the next cinema over from me, but this involved going quite far out of my way, and visiting a cinema at which I do not receive loyalty points, in order to see a film that really should have been far more readily available.
Due to all the aforementioned palaver with the viewing, my anticipation for the film may have been raised slightly above where it should have been. I was hoping for a great film, as many reviews I’d read had pointed in this direction, and the little I could remember of The Hurt Locker was mostly positive. However, I was also prepared not to enjoy it, as I’m not a huge fan of Bigelow’s directing style (this blog’s very first post details my disdain for Point Break). What I was thoroughly unprepared for though, was to leave the cinema without any opinion towards the film whatsoever. I’m not saying I was left numbed with shock, I’m saying I was completely and utterly unimpressed and underwhelmed with practically everything I’d seen, as if the previous two and a half hours had been spent in a coma, making this the most pointless cinematic experience I’ve ever had.
So what, may you ask, am I doing writing a post on something I have no thoughts on? Well, there are three reasons. Firstly, I’m trying to review everything I see in the cinema, in an effort to make this blog a little more current. Secondly, I do have a few opinions on it, although my pocket notebook received the least scribblings in recent memory. And thirdly, this is just the sort of film the 1001 book will include in it’s next issue, and if I review it now then I won’t have to do it again later. Shallow and selfish, yes, but also efficient. And quite frankly, I don’t really want to watch this film again.
So, thoughts. I’d really appreciate it if someone could buy Kathryn Bigelow a tripod. Shaky-cam does work at times, but those times don’t exist anymore outside of found-footage films. I didn’t get a headache, but it was so very distracting seeing the camera jiggle and shake in a manner that seemed far more exaggerated than would actually be the case if it were being held by someone trying to film whilst walking or running. Add to this the fact that I was sat in a rocking chair and it becomes a triumph that I didn’t throw up. Zero Dark Thirty also rivals Les Miserables for most egregious use of close-ups, of which there were far too many for my liking.
In terms of plot, the pacing was good but there were far too many characters to keep track of, and they were occasionally played by recognisable or down-right famous actors, which regularly took me out of what I was watching. I’m fine with people like Mark Strong or James Gandolfini being given their roles, as they added a certain gravitas to the proceedings, but Mark Duplass had me wondering if that was really him, and then of course John Barrowman showed up for 11 words of dialogue. I cannot imagine the thought process that led to him being cast, unless there were several scenes he was cut from that required a rendition of Any Dream Will Do. I also wasn’t as impressed as many other people with Jessica Chastain’s performance. She didn’t really stand out for me, and I get the feeling she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar (and may even win) because, as usual, there haven’t been too many spectacular roles for women this year, but she’s the main character with the most screen time in a big name picture. It isn’t a bad performance, and I do like her as an actress (I love what she did in The Help) but I just wasn’t overly impressed with what is supposedly one of the five best performances of the year.
On a positive note, I loved the cut from the London bombing to a guy sharing a chocolate ice cream with some monkeys in the desert, some elements of the plot were genuinely unexpected – which is rare for a film about real life recent events – and the helicopters sounded so incredibly sexy, which means a lot coming from a guy not overly concerned with vehicles that don’t have two wheels and a bell.
Choose life 5/10
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7 thoughts on “Zero Dark Thirty

  1. I liked this a little more than you, but nowhere near as much as the professional critics. I detailed my thoughts on it in my review a couple weeks ago. I gave it three stars out of five. It was only middle of the pack for me among the nominated films.

  2. Of the Best Picture nominations that I've seen this is at the bottom for me, although I've not seen Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi or Silver Linings Playbook yet.

  3. Pingback: 2013: A Movie Odyssey (Year in Review Part 2) | Life Vs Film

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