Just like with Killing Them Softly, I was so disappointed with Zero Dark Thirty that I won't even write a complete review. I will just list my observations in this post that will hopefully lower your expectations and make your viewing of the film in something else than bitter disappointment. If I were to write more it would turn into a very long list of flaws. I don't think this film is worth of the time it would take to write it. Because let me tell you - I'm actually wondering if me and the critics listed on metacritic saw the same film. 15 x 10/10 rating? Best Picture frontrunner? Chastain for Best Actress? Is this a joke?
Though I didn't like The Hurt Locker, I was eagerly anticipating Zero Dark Thirty. I like films about CIA. I like films based on real events. I like Jessica Chastain. And then I saw the movie. Never mind it's really more of a work of fiction or what Kathryn Bigelow considers to be facts, there were some things in this film that were just so laughably made up even I noticed it. But that wouldn't matter if it was a gripping, suspenseful movie with great characters. And it's not.
The biggest problem with Zero Dark Thirty is its protagonist, Maya, who I read is based on a real person. Had I liked the movie I'd dig deeper but since I didn't - I don't really care. I read few reviews written by people who also found the movie to be painfully mediocre and they said Maya feels like a robot. I completely agree. Her character is completely lifeless, dull and annoying and actually made me miss Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker. What constantly made me laugh was how the other characters make attempts to make her into something she is not by saying she is "a killer" she is "inspiring" and "she did so many things". Standing around looking sad when someone is tortured, looking at videos and yelling in hallways is definitely not "doing a lot of things" and being "a killer", unless killer is someone who is extremely obnoxious.
Last year I actually gave Chastain win for The Help. She also delivered fine performances in Take Shelter and The Debt. Look, I give credit where the credit is due, but she he is completely bland as Maya, who is supposed to be our protagonist. Claire Danes proved that you can make obsessed character in this kind of story fascinating to watch but Chastain is completely clueless here. She wanders around with the look of an angry kid who got sent to detention. Her performance quickly becomes laughable when she starts yelling at people - it's like a bad, not funny Homeland parody that you are praying will end soon. At one point she is in danger. I was so uninterested in what will happen to Maya that instead of shaking with fear for her, I kept looking at my watch.
Then there is the ending with the plot twist - the robot can cry. The problem is that for the audience to feel anything for the characters you have to bond with them. The issue is not even that we don't know much about Maya, it is just that she is not interesting - she is a typical career obsessed woman who has one goal - to catch Bin Laden. She chose this life. At one point she loses a friend. But apart from the laughably cliched attempt to force emotional response from us when we see the photo of two "friends" on computer's wallpaper we really don't get a sense Chastain's Maya cares about anyone or anything.
The crying in the end is just one of the amusing attempts Bigelow makes to make the film deep. My favorite is her use of symbolism - I couldn't believe my own eyes when she showed A BLACK CAT crossing the street before something bad happens. That will be your best picture winner, people. THAT.
I really wish that the character of Maya was joined with Jennifer Ehle's into one character - just drop Chastain all together and let Ehle be the protagonist. She was excellent with the little she was given - as in last year's Contagion. She was the one who actually had passion, smarts and wit - I loved seeing her on the screen. The supporting cast is excellent, especially Mark Strong and Jason Clarke and whenever the film leaves Maya and her sour puss it's much, much better. It was a good movie when it focused on pretty much anything than the actual protagonist, especially during the sequence of now famous raid which was very well made. There are many moments in the film that are worth seeing, but overall it's just puzzling why the response is so positive. Is it the Americans? I think the film will get much less favorable reviews overseas.
Zero Dark Thirty is getting a lot of heat for how the torture is portrayed in the film - there are people who say they won't see the movie because of it (you lucky bastards!) and there are those who rate it lower after seeing it for the same reason. Though the film suggests that the torture did lead the CIA to valuable information there are two far more appalling things n the movie. Number one - the film opens with black screen and we hear the ACTUAL recordings of 911 calls during the time the plane hit the first tower. Not only is it grossly manipulative - it's disrespectful and disgusting. Number 2 - Bigelow's bag of tricks is so hallow - she only uses explosions to build up suspense for most of the film. The problem is that these events actually happened and now they are being used in this mediocre film to inject a little adrenaline in it. Wow.
I could go and on but frankly this film doesn't deserve more of my time. You get the gist. I'm giving it 62/100 because the supporting cast really did wonders with this material and some of the sequences were very well made. Hell, even Alexandre Desplat stepped up and finally gave us a memorable piece of score, during the moment when the helicopters are taking off. But the film will quickly fade from my memory just as tears faded from Maya's lifeless face.
Apart for the image of that cat. I just couldn't believe it.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012, 157 min)
Plot: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May, 2011.
Mark Boal (screenplay)
Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt