Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review - Zero Dark Thirty

At 12:30 a.m. on May 2nd 2011, Black Ops raided a compound in Pakistan and shot dead the world's most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden. It was the culmination of a long, tiring search by the CIA which inspired Kathryn Bigelow's clinical new thriller Zero Dark Thirty.
As fictionalized by writer Mark Boal, the CIA men and women who worked for years to track down the reviled terrorist are amalgamated and personified by the character of Maya (Jessica Chastain), but that's about as fictional as his screenplay gets. The vast majority of it is a straight-laced, doggedly researched piece of cine-journalism, which condenses several firsthand accounts into a tightly-wound docudrama.

It would be easy to describe Zero Dark Thirty as a so-called “meat and potatoes” movie for its impeccable craftsmanship and propulsive script that waits for no one, but I'd sooner compare it to the steamed vegetables of my cinematic dinner plate. I know it's nutritious, I know it's important to intake, but it's all so... flavourless.

The controversy that shrouds the much talked about scenes of torture may cause the film to come off as an artistically risky one, but Bigelow's real risk is actually in serving up such a compassionless depiction of the facts. We're afforded no instructional musical cues or moments of pause to grieve when people (innocent or otherwise) are gunned or blown up. Even as we watch Maya evolve from rookie agent to a woman obsessed, we aren't given any real insight into her character at all. Without an audience surrogate, many viewers may find themselves asking upon the film's final moment of closure, “Why should I care?”

It certainly makes the first two hours an exercise in patience, but the payoff is clear when it builds to the tense midnight raid on Bin Laden's hideout. Much credit is due to Paul N.J. Ottosson's precise sound design and the masterful editing of William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor that Bigelow can command our suspense even though we know the outcome.

*** out of ****

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