Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

This evening I watched the most critically acclaimed film of 2012. Does it deserve all the acclaim? From a purely technical standpoint, it deserves some of it, for it is an intense well-made film, but I think Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained are among the most overrated films of the century. I am not a fan of the style or the cinematography or even the structure of the film (the first half was just an ordinary film to me), but those are mostly personal preferences which would only minimally impact my ‘objective’ assessment of the film. The acting is flawless, with Jessica Chastain well-deserving of her best actress nomination. 

Technical considerations aside, however, Zero Dark Thirty is the failure I suspected it would be and is in no danger of sneaking into my top ten of the year. The most glaring flaw for me was the complete lack of heart. Yes, the film highlights Maya’s obsession with finding and killing Bin Laden and her almost complete lack of a life outside of that obsession, so it gives us some insight into at least one character. But this is a cold analytical amoral film. If it is trying to be critical of the use of torture (which played a role in finding Bin Laden) or any other actions of the CIA or the U.S., I missed it and that, for me, is a deal-breaker.

Maya’s obsession with Bin Laden mirrors the American obsession with finding and killing the man (the monster) responsible for 9/11. Everyone seems to take it for granted that he was solely responsible for the deaths of 3,000 people that day, so now the case is closed. I, for one, accept none of the official statements about 9/11 and see nothing but a very long list of unanswered questions and unexplainable events which suggest that there was much more to 9/11 than Osama. I will leave it at that. Sure the film treats its mission in such a casual way that it doesn’t glorify the hunt for Bin Laden the way an action film might do, but to me the film was still making a hero out of Maya and her obsession with this most noble of causes representing this most noble of countries. And I will also leave that at that. 

Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained are, for me, examples of how film critics are so focused on analyzing the craft of filmmaking that they forget to ask whether these films are “good” for people to watch and applaud; whether they help make the world a better place or a worse place. I believe discussing that should be part of the critic’s task.  And I know there are critics who would argue that Kathryn Bigelow (director) and Mark Boal (writer) are really asking whether the hunt for Osama was worth it. I am happy to discuss it, but I was looking for it and didn’t see it. Still, I will give Zero Dark Thirty ***. My mug is  up but there’s nothing particularly tasty inside. 

P.S. I just saw for the first time that Roger Ebert only gave this film ***. I am surprised and delighted to see it.

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