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Home » Culture and Criticism

Zero Dark Thirty: Fatigue(d)

Submitted by on January 28, 2013 – 3:47 PM16 Comments


I wonder what I missed; I didn’t have a strong reaction to Zero Dark Thirty either way. I didn’t think the depiction of torture was fetishistic, or cynical, or too much or too little (I did admire Jessica Chastain’s work in that initial scene). It didn’t grip me with tension, possibly because I covered the NatGeo version of the story for Yahoo! last fall, but it didn’t drag, either, and Kathryn Bigelow’s variation on the final raid is flawlessly balanced between the operation and the lives inside it. Like The Hurt Locker, it’s built like a Mercedes.

But I watched it, and I made a few notes, and I won’t watch it again, or get mad about it, or evangelize for it. It’s very good, except in a few spots where it’s awesome (the tailing sequence in the marketplace; the ambush, which did make me antsy all “oh…oh, no, no, no no no no no”; the line “Do your fucking jobs; bring me people to kill”), and a few other spots where it gets a bit foggy. The ending is annoying: Maya’s clichéd (and maybe gendered; I doubt it, with this team, but I couldn’t tell) response overrides anything a different edit might have had to say about what Disneyworld you can possibly go to after you’ve completed a decade-long mission to kill a man, and it’s still not “even.”

It’s always nice to see Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt (and Chris Pratt’s medial deltoids; daaaaaang), but I probably shouldn’t have spent the bulk of the running time devising TV pilots starring Jennifer Ehle and set in my home. I mean, I love her, and again, it’s not that ZD30 is boring. Maybe I just have nothing left for Osama.




  • attica says:

    Isn’t Ehle wonderful? I can never get enough of her whatever she’s in, and I don’t know why casting agents don’t do something to sate me.

    I liked Chastain well enough, but there’s only so much ‘putting your hands through your hair to demonstrate weariness over desk work’ that is necessary in any film, and this went over that limit. I liked her scenes with other characters way more than I liked her solo. I think Bigelow could have trimmed the length of those scenes, if she wanted to leave them all in.

    It took me a post-view lookup to peg Joel Edgerton (Kinky Boots!). With the beards, he and Chris Pratt were nearly interchangeable.

    And except where he was all Mr. Torture, Jason Clarke ups his fox factor here.

    I agree the ambush was some nail-bitey bit of stuff. Not enough SEAL-dog, but otherwise, no complaint.

  • Kristina says:

    Oh sweet mother this is the first time I realized that was Jennifer Ehle. And I own the P&P and everything. I was genuinely like, this lady is so damn familiar…where do I know her from? and now I feel quite stupid. But let’s say it’s just amazing work on her part.

  • Next summer.
    [sound of oatmeal being mixed slowly]
    Joel Edgerton.
    [Beige screen with “EDGERTON!” zoom out super slowly for 20 seconds]
    Sam Worthington.
    [Beige screen with “WORTHINGTON” zoom out super slowly for 7 minutes]

  • Update! I made the poster at great personal expense.

  • kategm says:

    It was intense. I spent quite a good chunk of the movie with my eyes closed because I figured Some Shit Was About to Go Down and I would turn out to be right. And also during the torture scenes because like Jason Clarke says, you just get tired of looking at naked detainees after a while.

    So: glad I saw it so I could see what the fuss was about, can mostly understand the buzz around it, and if I had to sum it up in one word: intense.

  • Seankgallagher says:

    YMMV, but I didn’t mind the ending. For starters, she didn’t overdo it, but more importantly, I do think the movie builds us towards this, from her growing impatience with people to the fact she’s been working on nothing else since this (there’s a reason people get rotated off of cases like this) and her expression when it finally comes down to identifying Bin Laden’s body. I don’t think it was a matter of saying, “Oh, no one’s going to accept her character unless she cries at the end”, I think it was genuine catharsis, and it felt earned.

    At any rate, of the (sadly few) 2012 releases I’ve seen, it’s my favorite, and I am more than a little ticked off Kathryn Bigelow was ignored at the Oscars.

  • attica says:

    @SeanK, when you nominate 10 films but only 5 directors, snubbing is inevitable. Why we need to have so many films up for the prize is…unclear. It strikes me as edging closer to pee-wee soccer’s everybody-gets-a-trophy ethos.

  • Andrew says:

    @David T: that is awesome.

  • Seankgallagher says:

    @Attica; I understand that, but I think she’s the one taking the heat for the torture debate that’s come up, and to me, that’s unfortunate.

  • Sandman says:

    So no one else finds this thing way too long? Like “It feels like I’ve been sitting here for the twelve years it actually took” kind of long? I can’t decide if that’s measure of how effectively Bigelow built the tensions in her story, or whether there were lags and self-indulgences in the thing. (I’m leaning toward the latter.)

    I like Chastain a lot (and love Ehle!) but the way the film treats Maya as a kind of fiery-haired Nemesis, on a quest for vengeance that becomes increasingly personal, pisses me off.

  • Sandman says:

    With the beards, [Edgerton] and Chris Pratt were nearly interchangeable.

    @attica: I don’t recognize Edgerton on sight, I guess, but I’m glad someone else had trouble telling Pratt and Pratt Prime apart.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Sand: I don’t know about “way” too long…but yes, it felt too long. And yet I don’t know what I would have cut, or where…the whole thing just felt kind of extraneous.

  • Sandman says:

    It’s also possible I don’t handle the looming threat of ambush in movies all that well. So, yeah. The title of your post is very nicely observed.

  • Erin W says:

    I thought this movie was outright amazing, but I’ve barely read or seen anything about the Seal Team Six operation, so it was basically all new to me. “I know they kill Bin Laden at the end.”

    I also felt that making everything so long is just what made the film so incredibly tense for me. The scene in the marketplace, the Bin Laden operation, even that little moment when the terrorists are shooting at Maya’s car, they just last SO much longer than you expect they are going to. I was on the edge, and I was saying, “OH my god finish this thing already!” but in a really satisfied way, if you know what I mean, like that first scene in Inglourious Basterds. With the Bin Laden operation I was like, “HOW MANY ROOMS ARE IN THIS GODDAMNED HOUSE?” And I loved it.

    Chastain was terrific, too. I liked in particular her reaction to A CERTAIN CHARACTER’S death: where any other movie would have had excessive weeping or drunkenness, we got Chastain, curled up in a corner, just taking really long, shallow breaths. I also liked that even though her character was strong and capable, she was neither a ball-buster nor someone who had to be spunky and outrageous every second.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    With the Bin Laden operation I was like, “HOW MANY ROOMS ARE IN THIS GODDAMNED HOUSE?”

    Ha, yeah, that was good. Reminded me in a way of “Black Hawk Down,” and how much tenser it made things that you really couldn’t always tell who was who and what was going on.

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