Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

In Zero Dark Thirty, Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow takes her audience by the hand and explains, as you might to an inattentive child, that the terrorists who caused the 9/11 attacks now have to be interrogated.

The film starts with desperate phone calls from the Twin Towers in 2001, heard, not seen. What follow, announced as two years later, are long scenes of CIA interrogations, with the implementation of towels, water, chains, boxes, cursing, hitting, insults. At first, the interrogators get nowhere; then, because of our heroine Maya (Jessica Chastain), whose only goal in life is to capture Osama bin Laden, they succeed.

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While it is good to see a woman as the hero of a movie that does not include a romantic relationship for her character to balance with her duties, Bigelow creates other obstacles. Chastain, the only actor in the film to pronounce the name of the al-Qaeda terrorist leader as La-dèn, is frightfully unbelievable as a CIA agent, and Bigelow's decision to have her chew on things and 'eat like a man' in every second scene does not help alter that reality.

Let's have her eating french fries with ketchup, at her desk in the secret location in Pakistan, while she explains her theories to show how tough and masculine she is. And a cheeseburger with a coke half an hour later in the film, to show how American and patriotic she is, and tough and determined, in case you forgot. This is, unfortunately, how one can imagine discussions about the script. At the secret CIA "black site" in Gdansk, Poland, she even gets to lick her knife while talking "greed and ideology" with female colleague Jessica (Jennifer Ehle).

You could also close your eyes and let the mood music tell you exactly how to feel. Helicopter sounds, everyone speaking very fast at meetings in Langley, Virginia, so that we know it's business and serious, alternate with historical events. The search includes the shoe bomber conspiracy, the London bus bombings in July 2005, and the attack on the Karachi Marriott in 2008. Bigelow shows them as TV news, re-enacts them, and has the events discussed by American agents. If you've read the paper during the last ten years, you won't get much new insight here.

Maya's friendly CIA superior Dan (Jason Clarke), who instructs her and does most of the torturing with a kind and concerned face, calls the terrorists "Bro'" at the end of his sentences, and keeps repeating, what, I suppose, is the central message of the movie: ''When you lie to me, I hurt you.''

Ehle as the second female agent does not get a chance to shine and is left to deliver lines in a hotel such as "We're socialising. Be social!" to knife-licker Chastain.

Telegraphing scenes, so that even a halfway sensitive audience can anticipate exactly when to put its hands up to cover ears and eyes, is not a compromise worth making, except maybe at the box office. In Zero Dark Thirty you can study the conventions of how to film a person getting into a car that will be shot at. Everything is summed up and packaged neatly so as to not challenge the audience. Nothing surprises. What did you expect? Secrets revealed in a big Hollywood movie.

"That's not normal guy behaviour. That's tradecraft," explains Chastain's Maya about a suspect. Unfortunately, the same goes for her and all the other actors. Going on for nearly three hours, the predictability makes you drag along to see the scenes leading up to the capture. Writing numbers with a red pen on the glass of an inter-office wall to indicate that the men don't know what they are doing and that our heroine, who figured it all out, is impatient, does not create suspense, nor does it give any insight into human interactions in offices outside of fantasy land.

It appears the "strong female" in mainstream Hollywood productions still has to sell a Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich-style quirkiness to convey confidence. And I don't mean a way of dressing. I had to think about Disney's Beauty And The Beast while watching Zero Dark Thirty. Maya and bin La-dèn.

Following the critical success and honours bestowed upon her for The Hurt Locker, Bigelow appears to have been hired and asked to do the job the Hollywood financial backers wanted, instead of making her own film.

An American in Pakistan, the Musical - it could become a big hit on Broadway with Julie Taymor directing.

Reviewed on: 08 Dec 2012
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Zero Dark Thirty packshot
A recreation of the ten year hunt by US agents for Osama bin Laden.
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Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writer: Mark Boal

Starring: Jason Clarke, Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Strong, Reda Kateb, Harold Perrineau, Jennifer Ehle

Year: 2012

Runtime: 157 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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