Many critics are already lauding Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty as the best movie of the year and one of the best war movies ever. It did just land a Best Picture nomination at this year's Oscars (although director Kathryn Bigelow was snubbed) and was also the recipient of several year-end critic society awards.
So keep that in consideration as I bash it a bit. Detailing our country's tedious and intense manhunt for Osama Bin Laden - culminating in a risky, daring raid on his Pakistani home where he had been holed up in - Zero Dark Thirty is a gripping film. It is book-ended with powerful, memorable sequences, opening with a terrorist prisoner getting waterboarded by US officials and ending with one of the most thrilling scenes you may ever see in this kind of film.
But the long middle portion of cat and mouse leaves a lot to desire. At over two-and-a-half hours, Zero Dark Thirty goes nowhere, and slowly. Well, let me rephrase: It goes somewhere - to the obvious known conclusion of how things turned out for Bin Laden - but for the viewer, it's like, come on already!
Jessica Chastain plays Maya, who is at the center of the ten-year hunt for Bin Laden. Several details of her journey - and the maddening levels of government involved in the decision-making - are very compelling to watch unfold.
But this is not a movie about characters. In fact, Bigelow seems purposely uninterested in establishing any. Much like an episode of Law & Order or CSI, the case is the main character. Chastain simply bounces from clue to clue, from lead to lead, from suspect to suspect. Unlike an episode of those mentioned shows, our knowledge of the ending makes the film seem like a never-ending rerun.
Somehow, Chastain does give a great performance, though she isn't given an authentic person to portray. So kudos there, I guess. There is also a great performance by Jason Clarke as the hard-nosed military man in charge of the "questioning" of the captive terrorists.
Now, I never liked the argument that you couldn't enjoy a film like Titanic, because you go into it already knowing how it ends. The journey, I'd argue, is sometimes more important than the destination. But in the case of Zero Dark Thirty, I tend to agree with this premise. Titanic was a movie that introduced characters that we cared about. Even in Bigelow's Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, the draw was that we cared about the people and soldier's at the film's center. Zero Dark Thirty fails in failing to provide us with an emotional, personal connection. By the time it ends, you take away no more than you could have had you Google-d "Seal Team Six."
It's a missed opportunity and a bit of a disappointment, but ends on such a rush that it is definitely worth seeing. In fact, this is a well-made film. When you cross a rising actor with a very popular, rising director, teaming to tell a story about our country's greatest triumph of the past decade, it is bound to get people excited. But the reality is that Zero Dark Thirty is a bit too familiar: It's an amazing and thrilling sequence or two trapped in the bloated carcass of your every-day procedural.
Genre: Action, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours 37 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler
Written by Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Point Break, Blue Steel)
Opens locally on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 (check for show times).
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