By Don Simpson | January 3, 2013
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Reda Kateb, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Jeremy Strong, J.J. Kandel
Going into the Zero Dark Thirty press screening, I knew that the film had already stirred up a hornets’ nest of controversy (or, as I prefer, hoopla or hullabaloo); but since I try to go into films as blind as possible, I made every attempt to avoid all of the banter. From what I gather, some people are concerned about Kathryn Bigelow’s depiction of torture. I can only assume that they think Bigelow reveals too much about the techniques used (presumably past tense) by the United States military — or perhaps they are questioning the authenticity? I really do not know — and when it comes down to it, I honestly do not care to know. I will say that from my perspective, Bigelow does not appear to show anything that most of the world has not already seen. (I do know that I felt surprisingly unmoved by her detached depiction of the torture scenes.) I also realize that I cannot speak to the authenticity of the footage, since I did not witness the real life events that Zero Dark Thirty is based upon. In the end, is it not just first-hand sources that can speak to the film’s authenticity? In fact, considering that all of those first-hand sources are either CIA or military, I doubt we will ever know the truth.
Then again — does the truth really matter? Zero Dark Thirty is fiction and Bigelow is first and foremost concerned about developing a thrilling drama — which she does quite flawlessly, by the way. Zero Dark Thirty is not an Oliver Stone film; this is a film made by someone who cares a heck of lot more about action than she does about politics. In fact, after watching Zero Dark Thirty, I am finally able to to pinpoint exactly what it is that keeps me from liking films such as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. I have come to realize that Bigelow has taken two very hot-button political topics and stripped them down to their pure, essential dramatic elements. Bigelow does not reveal any opinions about the politics of the on screen events; instead, she distances herself (and us) from the subject matter, resulting in two emotionless yet amazingly adroit action films.
Bigelow also ensures that we never become attached to her characters. With lack of development or backstory, we are given absolutely no reason to relate to or empathize with them. In the case of Zero Dark Thirty, Maya is merely a pawn in a narrative that we already know — we know the conclusion before we even watch the film. That said, I think Jessica Chastain is amazing as Maya, especially considering what little she has to work with. First and foremost, I give Zero Dark Thirty props for showcasing a strong female lead that does not use her feminine wiles to get her way. But one of Maya’s character only traits is her frigidity, her lack of emotion. There is absolutely nothing to connect with. Her sole glimmer of personality comes when she refers to herself as a “motherfucker” during a meeting — and she is a tenacious motherfucker driven by a single goal for ten years of her life: to find and kill Osama bin Laden. She has done nothing with her entire career but work towards that one goal. For all intents and purposes, her attitude is more stubbornly masculine than feminine; and it is President Obama’s “no torture” directive that comes off as the most feminine perspective in the entire film.
Regardless of my inherent desire for a film with some meaning, there is no denying that Zero Dark Thirty packs a masterful approach to action. I felt so goddamn tense for the two and a half hour running time. I may never see Zero Dark Thirty again, but I will probably never forget the experience. That must say something, I just don’t know what?