Sunday, January 6, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

By Sati. Sunday, January 6, 2013 , , , , , , , ,
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.
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal (screenplay)
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt

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40 comments:

  1. Well, a 62's higher than I expected. ;) Not sure how I'll feel about this, as I haven't seen Homeland to compare it to. I am a fan of The Hurt Locker though, so I might like this after all.

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    1. Oh the comparison is really mostly about a protagonist female and the politics/terrorism plot, but the Homeland is so much better than ZDT it's really a far-fetched comparison :)

      I thought it was slightly better than THL with the only thing that was worse being the protagonist.

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  2. I am so curious to see this one, but I am not expecting anything interesting. Like you, I really didn't like Hurt Locker and I don't get the buzz over Bigelow, so I am just hoping Zero Dark Thirty will not snatch Best Picture in the big awards; the rest (Best Actress, Best Director) I can manage, but Picture? no, it should go to someone else!

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    1. I think two Oscars for Bigelow would be really ridiculous. As for Chastain - this year is incredibly weak when it comes to Best actress category :(

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  3. Wow I really liked it, think it's going to be in my top 2 of the year!

    I found it gripping, suspenseful and thought Chastain was superb and easily the best lead Actress performance I've seen this year (but I haven't seen SLP yet). I found Maya to be very robotic indeed, but I felt it showed how fixated she was on finding Bin Laden. I thought the crying scene at the end really showed how all her life had been for this and now it was done. Yay! Haha. But I didn't get emotional, I think you are right in saying that we can't connect with her on a emotional level for the most part, but I connected in that she had dedicated her life to finding Osama.

    We usually agree, but I think I'll definitely be cheering for ZD30 come Oscar time!

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    1. I really prefer films that are filled with emotions and protagonists to root for. James Gandolfini and Mark Strong played cold characters here too but they made them so much more complex that Maya with 1/10 screen time Maya had. It did show that, but I really couldn't care less about her.

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  4. Going to avoid reading it because I'm already kind of iffy about watching it but I really want to so.. I'll come back when I've seen it.

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    1. Cool, I hope you will enjoy your viewing of this, at least more than I did :/

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  5. Loved the hell out of this movie, and I really see it as a big contender, come Oscar-time. Good review Sati.

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    1. Unfortunately it will a big contender indeed.

      Thanks!

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  6. I'm always leery of movies like this because it seems they can so easily veer into being exploitative. Thanks for the honest review. Sounds like a film I can miss. And I can do without the justification of torture. I'm a U.S. citizen and I lived through 8 years of listening to George W. Bush. I've heard enough justification of torture. :-(

    BTW, I absolutely agree that cold characters can -- and should -- be interesting and complex.

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    1. Thank you! I was completely shocked by how much of a void this film was. The films like the Insider prove something can be a good representation of events and be incredibly gripping at the same time.

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  7. I haven't read a pan of ZD30 yet, but this one mentions some concerns I've heard others share. I'm holding out hope because Chastain is one of my favorite actresses right now.

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    1. I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with her work lately :(

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  8. Maybe I am getting softer in my old age but I really liked the film. My one mild criticism was the shakey cam but that did not detract enough from my enjoyment of the film.

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    1. Funnily enough I didn't even notice the shakey cam thing :)

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  9. I actually thought you'd rate this below 50. Hmmm, I'm gonna see this later this week, I'll definitely see it with my expectation in check. I didn't like The Hurt Locker either, but I'm super curious with this one. Too bad Jessica didn't wow you, she really was good in The Debt and The Help!

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    1. I try to be fair - it was directed with skill and the supporting cast was very good. It wasn't below the average BUT it was shockingly bad if you compare it to the quality of the film that is supposed to be worthy of all that praise.

      She really was, but this year she was very disappointing :(

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  10. I'm surprised you gave it a 62. Personally, I think Kathryn Bigelow is WAY overrated, and it's not because she is a woman. It's because the Academy pitted her against her ex husband. Everyone (including me) wanted to see her win just because it would be like a hilarious "fuck you" to über douche, James Cameron. Without that added bit of drama, she's a very mediocre director. My opinion, anyways.

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    1. I thought that some scenes were good and the cast apart from Chastain did a good job. The last 30 minutes minus the ending were very good. hence the 62 rating, it was a decent movie, just incredibly flawed.

      I agree, she is incredibly overrated. I agree with that. If she wins the second Oscar Cameron will be even more furious :)

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  11. The subject matter of this does nothing for me, but it will do well at the oscars I am sure.

    FRC is back Sati... we are out of depression and back to the grind!! HAPPY NEW YEAR my friend

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    1. Yeah, I have a feeling Bigelow only did that for the attention and awards. If she wanted to make the movie about it in such tone, she should have done a documentary, but it's not as glamorous as doing big Hollywood movie :/

      Awesome! So glad to see you back and happy new year to you too!

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  12. Great review! This has had virtually no exposure here in the UK at all yet, I don't even know when it's due to come out. From what I have seen, I'm worried it's gonna be two hours of propaganda. But female director makes war film about the US kicking terror in the face? Nailed on Oscar. That's just my cynical side coming out :)

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    1. Thank you! Actually the problem with the film is that it lacks guts - it mentions the two presidents and political stuff but it's too chicken to take sides. The excuse "analytical approach" is just a poor way of saying they didn't know themselves what it is they wanted to show.

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  13. I agree with a lot of your review.

    Keep in mind that whenever you see an actor of Chastain's calibre where the character is so flat, it is the fault of the director. Her being robotic clearly falls on Bigelow's shoulders and likely Boal's as well, since they would have been manipulating the character just to add emotional weight to the final scene... unfortunately, without having emotions throughout the film, they lost their audience. There were four points of emotion: 1) scared while being shot at in the car, 2) bomb blows up friends on the base, 3) the hallway blackmail outburst, 4) the day count that she wrote on the glass.... HOWEVER, these were all very short contained/compartmentalized within the film, and from what I recall, she doesn't shed any tears during any of that, rather, she saves it up for the final scene. This is the *director's choice*.

    I firmly blame Bigelow for wasting my 2.5+ hours... but I still love Chastain. She's teflon in my book. There is nothing Oscar worthy in this film.

    My review here:
    http://ajking.ca/blog/?p=245

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    1. I disagree - there were many times that even if characters were flat the actress playing them was doing wonders - Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton comes to mind. The writing is at fault yes, but Chastain is to be blamed too.

      I agree - the film will never be engaging to movie goers without emotional connection. I understand the Americans loving this since it depicts the death of their Boogeyman, but what about the rest of the world? Agree, noting Oscar worthy here. Nothing at all.

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  14. I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE THIS! You are so lucky!! Too bad you didn't like this more. I was irked by The Hurt Locker complete lack of realism (from a military standpoint) so I'm cautiously optimistic here. I've heard that Chastain's character isn't allowed to emote until the final minutes of the film but we are talking about a real-life CIA agent who was probably a tough-skinned, obsessed lady to do this kind of work.

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    1. I'm actually quite unlucky. If I knew how mediocre this is going to be I'd just play with my dog :)

      She had many opportunities to show emotions in the film, she didn't do that. Especially her friendship with other CIA agent suffers - you can't believe any of it - because of the way she is acting/her character is written.

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  15. Zero Dark Thirty isn’t about Maya or any of the other personalities in the film. This is a story about procedure, the details on what information was uncovered and then utilized to determine bin Laden’s whereabouts. When approached from that perspective, I found this to be unbelievably fascinating. I was riveted to the screen. Even parts where nothing bad happens, you’re always on the edge of your seat because you think something bad is going to happen. I loved this film and easily consider it to be among the very best of 2012.

    If you are interested in my detailed thoughts, they can be found here: http://fastfilmreviews.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/zero-dark-thirty/

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    1. If that is what it was supposed to be, Bigelow should really just make a documentary. This movie doesn't work as a film about procedure because there are so many misinterpretations of the facts and flat out lies here served as truth.

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  16. Interesting score, Sati... I watched Nat. Geo's "Seal Team Six", that was easier to understand, but they got soooo many facts wrong in that one. This one, I didn't see a single thing that wasn't done properly.That's after loads of studying up on the facts. It felt real. I really enjoyed it, even if I thought it was a tad slow throughout. It got an 82 from me

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    1. I don't know much about this whole thing as I didn't follow the story but I read few articles some time ago + some things I just know because they are well known facts - the film suggested there are CIA sites were there aren't any and worse yet it showed Bin Laden's son with a gun which never happened and was another gross manipulation by Bigelow.

      I wouldn't care about such lies since it's a movie but since it's trying to be taken as "a true representation of what happened" I find it disgusting.

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    2. I keep seeing this in reviews, too high of a focus on the director. When I watch a film, 9 times out of 10 I don't know who the director was until after I watched it. I try to go in as blindly as possible, no trailer, no cast, no director, just the title of the movie. I am so blind a lot of the times that I am surprised to find the movie to be foreign. I do that to get away from any possibility of being biased. I mean, she didn't write it, so why is she having so much focus and criticism?

      I honestly don't think directors are that important. I think the writers are, and if it is the same name who writes and directs, then I am very interested. However, for the majority of the time, I just leave the cast and crew out of my mind when I watch something.

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    3. I didn't watch the film biased, in fact if there was bias I was leaning towards loving it but it disappointed me.

      It's her movie. She decides what makes it into the film from the script. She decides what she wants to show. The director is the one who ultimately makes the film, not the writer.

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  17. I think with another actress, and maybe another direction of how the character should be portrayed, could have saved the film. If this is supposed to be about Maya and her struggle, I'd like to actually care about the character, which I didn't. Renner made me care about what was happening in The Hurt Locker, and gave one of the best performances of his career. I don't understand the wide divide from people who LOVE her performance or HATE it like we do. I just know she can do better, but it's also Bigelow's fault for writing a mediocre character.

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    1. I think if I cared about character I'd end up liking the movie because I'd have the emotional connection to most of the events, through her.

      I think the praise for the movie - and in the effect for the performance - comes from those who are into movies like that - cold and analytical. I don't mind films like that only if they are splendidly written and this one was riddled with so many flaws and quite appalling changes to the actual events...I really had a lot of problems with it.

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  18. I completely agree with you on Maya's character. She was horrible to watch. So awkward and not relatable. When she's supposed to have lines that make her seem badass like "I'm the motherfucker who found the place" she doesn't sound cool. It sounds really weird and offputting. I agree that Chastain's performance is not impressive. She showed as much or less acting talent as Affleck did in Argo. There to drive the plot but not requiring much more. At least Affleck's character was more enjoyable on screen.

    I blame it on the writing and the choice to follow Maya strictly instead of pushing her to a smaller part and focusing more on several characters more extensively. I know Bigelow is to blame for some choices but I loved the actual filming and look of the movie so I favored her direction.

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    1. That line was cringe-worthy. I just couldn't believe how flat and dull that character was. I though Affleck was much better + I actually kept rooting for his character, Maya was so dull that even if it was fiction and I didn't know the end, I'd not care at all about them catching the bad guy.

      I agree, big ensemble where there were no favorites in terms of screen time would be much better, especially given how strong supporting actors were.

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  19. This is the most accurate review I have read yet. I was soooo damn disappointed because I like Chastain. Also my mom raved about how good it was. Your quote about checking your watch made me laugh because I felt like that was what I was doing for the whole film. And yeah, Affleck did a pretty terrible job at his role, but we all know Ben Affleck is a much, much better director than actor. Plus, like you said I was rooting for him! I had no investment in any of the characters except for Jennifer Ehle's character, and she died. So...yeah.

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    1. Thank you! I was really bored throughout the entire movie. It completely lacked suspense for me or even one story line that I'd be interested in seeing unfold on screen.

      Same here, I really didn't care about Maya at least Ehle's character seemed fun and human.

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