This week, I put on my Kevlar vest, got to the choppah and flew down to the local theatre to check out Best Picture Oscar nominee Zero Dark Thirty (2012) starring Jessica Chastain and directed by Kathryn Bigelow.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is the tale of the decade long hunt for Al-Qaeda leader and alleged 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden. Said hunt is lead and championed by Maya (no last name given) who is relentless in her determination to track down the terrorist leader.
I'll give you fair warning, folks. Unlike the movie, this review will be short, sweet and to the point.
I'm not entirely sure why this movie is up for a Best Picture Oscar this year. And by "not entirely sure", I mean "I can't believe" this movie is up for a Best Picture Oscar this year. Like the hunt for Bin Laden upon which this movie is based, it's just too damned long and incredibly boring for the vast majority of it. Not only that, I spent most of the first half of this movie having zero idea, and I mean I was completely in the dark (zero...dark...get it? yeah, sorry) about what was going on. Names and places are flung out in rapid fire succession to the point where you're not sure where they are or who they're talking about but they're sure talking about it a lot!
Some things are just introduced with barely any explanation at all. Take Mark Strong's character in the film, for example. He doesn't appear at all in the first half of the movie. Then he shows up, yells at everyone, and ends up sticking around for the rest of the movie, running the whole show. Who is he? What's his title? Is he CIA as well? If he's so integral to the hunt for Bin Laden, where was he for the first hour and a half of the film? If the time is taken to explain any of this, I clearly missed it.
There's also some terrible setups in this film. At one point, a high ranking Al-Qaeda member is "turned" by the CIA with the promise of millions of dollars. Said betrayer won't come to the CIA with his information but insists they meet on sacred ground, or some such. Already, warning bells are going off. They arrange the meet at Camp Something-Or-Other and spend about 20 minutes telegraphing the most obvious twist you will ever see in modern film. I heartily wish I was exaggerating. I'm not.
The acting just isn't great either. Jessica Chastain spends most of the movie doing an amazing impression of an emotionless robot. She's the star of this movie and there's hardly a scene without her in it. Most of the other actors in the film sort of hover around her with nobody really knocking one out of the park.
For all of it's issues, the film's single biggest stumbling block was the way in which the story unfolded. The entirety of the film ends up being broken down into two major plot points. The first is whether or not any of the leads, and especially the lead Maya finds fairly early in the film, will actually lead to Bin Laden. The second is whether or not they will get the green light once they think they've found him to go in and get him. The main problem here is, we already know the answers to both of these questions!
I'm not saying you can't shoot a decent movie when it's based on real life events. There are tons of such films out there. This film, though, spends a truly staggering amount of time teasing at both of these plot points. First, Maya is convinced that her early lead on Bin Laden is good and spends a ridiculous amount of time trying to convince other people of it. When the lead does, in fact, turn out to be good and points them to the possible location of Bin Laden (shocking, I know), she then spends a ridiculous amount of time trying to convince other people that he is, in fact, at that location and ready to be taken out. When we finally get to the climax of the movie, the actual incursion into the compound that lead to his alleged shooting death, it's a complete letdown since the entire build up to that moment was dragged out for so damn long. How can you possibly try to create that much suspense and anticipation for things we already know the outcome of?
Hell, start the movie with the incursion, then show me how they got there in a matter-of-fact, clearly explained, brilliantly written, acted, shot and, most importantly, concise manner. Alas, my friends, this is not what you will see if you are unfortunate enough to be dragged to this film (not that I was dragged or anything....).
I thought this film might end up being a recruitment film for the US Armed Forces much like Act of Valor was. I was wrong. It was an anti-recruitment film for the CIA which appears to be largely run by a collection of boobs that, once they pulled their heads out of their collective asses, ended up getting extremely lucky. Allegedly.
2 out of 5 stars