Movie review: Zero Dark Thirty

zero-dark-thirty1January 13, 2013 – Many moons ago, a good friend talked me into seeing a movie, which she had seen before and said it was one of the best movies she ever saw. That movie was “The Deer Hunter”. The Vietnam torture scenes were so graphic and upsetting; it affected me for a long time and made me question why my friend categorized it as the best movie ever. Wouldn’t you save that honor for something that left you with a positive feeling?

I had the same feeling over the weekend when I saw “Zero Dark Thirty”, a military term for 30 minutes after midnight, when the Bid Laden raid happened in Pakistan. Aside from the obvious subject matter, ridding the World of America’s most well-known fugitive, I’m not sure why this is on anyone’s list of the best movie of the year.

The graphic violence of the torture scenes in this movie, and the humiliation the Al Qaeda prisoners endured while under CIA watch was so difficult to take in, Kathryn Bigelow, the film’s director, almost achieved the unthinkable. She made me feel sorry for them. Sure, they are terrorists and they hate Americans, but they are human beings. I don’t mean to debate whether this is right or wrong – we all have our opinions about that – but it takes a certain kind of human being to be able to inflict pain like that. I hope I ever have to deal with the CIA.

Still, I’m not sure what the fuss is all about. The movie was certainly well-acted, but nothing out of the ordinary or better than any other well-acted movie. Jessica Chastain is capable enough, and since this is her second Oscar nomination in a row, she’s obviously a talented actress with a stunning career ahead. However, if she wins the Academy Award for best actress, when there are many comparable or even slightly better performances this year, I’ll believe it will be a case Tom Hanks/Philadelphia syndrome, when he won best actor for the attorney suffering from aids simply because of the subject matter. Hanks was against some pretty heavy hitters like Daniel Day-Lewis, “In the Name of the Father” and Liam Neeson in “Schindler’s List”, which won best picture and best director that year.

Like Chastain, the rest of this large cast is very good too, but it is she who is receiving most of the buzz. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I believe the Academy got it right with not nominating Bigelow for best director. It’s not that she did a poor job, it was just nothing out of the ordinary compared to the many movies released last year.

We all know the story of the raid, which is played out in the last 30 minutes of the movie. I’ll admit those last minutes were riveting, but it is the movie as a whole that I considered for this review. I am impressed by those Navy Seals who completed this raid and Bigelow does a fine job showing this on film. If there was an award for the best directed ending, I’d nominate her without a second thought.

It was the events leading up to the raid, those we may not be that familiar with, which dragged on through the first hundred or so minutes that I found horrifying and simply not good enough for Hollywood’s top prize. Sure, there are many movie fans that enjoy action scenes in war movies and the strategy behind them. I’m just not one of them, so perhaps my opinion isn’t completely fair. I’m simply a fan who was lured to the theater by the chatter and publicity this movie generated. I can’t say I’m disappointed, but I wasn’t blown away either, except by the last 30 minutes.

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Rating: 3

Rating System:
5. Great Movie, see it now
4. Good movie and worth the price of admission
3. It’s OK, but I’d wait for the DVD
2. Proceed with caution
1. Don’t bother

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