$2.00 ticket on a scale of $0 to $14.00.
The Central Intelligence Agency and the US Congress have done a solid for the movie, “Zero Dark Thirty”, which unspooled late in 2012 in time for the 2013 awards season and goes into general US release on 10 January 2013. If it were not for the CIA denying its veracity and a congressional committee investigating helmer Kathryn Bigelow‘s alleged access to the intelligence community there would be no interest in this waste of celluloid.
Pic covers the period from 11 September 2001 until the killing of Osama bin Laden by Navy Seal Team Six in 2011. Opening reels feature a great deal of torture, or “enhanced interrogation,” of Moslem suspects in undisclosed locations. But pic’s real torture is saved for auds. At 157 minutes, watching it feels as if one has endured the entire ten-year time frame in real time without a restroom break.
Pic claims to be based on “firsthand accounts of actual events.” That must have put bugs in the bonnets of the CIA and congress. All it proves is that the Intelligence Agency may be misnamed and that congress and intelligence in the same sentence amounts to oxymoron. Who cares?! It stinks. Auds should save their money.
Ninety percent of pic is the trackdown of Osama. No detail of the search is left on the cutting room floor. Not even a blind alley. Contemporary news footage and partial re-enactments of al Qaeda atrocities in London, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia abound. A chilling re-enactment of the panic of passengers in the second plane to hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 is pic’s opener. At least supers inform auds when and where action takes place.
Red-haired Jessica Chastain, who ages not a day in ten years — and appears not to have a boy or girlfriend the entire time — is Maya, the heroine, if you can call her that. Recruited by the CIA out of high school, she appears at her first interrogation, conducted by Dan (Jason Clarke) and other than a bout of nausea, seems to take to torturing subjects like a natural. Like the heroes in a Quentin Tarantino, flick, she is so loathsome that she’d be a bad guy in any other movie.
She quickly becomes obsessed by the search for Osama. It consumes her the way booze consumed Ray Milland in “The Lost Weekend” and even more so the way a BDSM relationship consumed Kim Basinger in “Nine 1/2 Weeks.” Maya substitutes the hunt for Osama as a private life. More on that later.
Eventually, with a little blackmail of superiors who are all for following what they perceive to be the political wind (torture is to be stopped; finding Osama is no longer job one) Maya gets her chance to prove herself — but not until she is outed as CIA, allegedly by Pakistan’s ISI (gotta love the alphabet soup), and terrorists stage an unsuccessful hit on her with AK-47s. This may be one of scribe Mark Boal’s flights of fancy. At the range these guys worked they’d have to have been blindfolded not to take Maya out.
Pic’s two redeeming scenes come courtesy of James Gandolfini as CIA Director Leon Panetta. For this he is given a rug to wear. Gandolfini is a tremendous screen presence. He does more acting in a single sentence than the rest of the cast put together in the entire movie.
The pivotal moment occurs about 20 minutes before pic’s end. In it, Maya has blackmailed her way into a meeting with top CIA brass in Langley and is told, as the only woman present and the lowest ranking attendee to sit in the back. Those she has blackmailed then make the case to the Director that Osama has been tracked down to a villa in Abbottabad, Pakistan. When asked, none of the guys is willing to state conclusively that Osama is in the villa. At that point Maya interjects that she is 100 percent sure that Osama is hiding there. The Director then asks, “Who are you?”
“I’m the motherf***er that found this place, sir,” she replies.
Afterward the Director tracks her down to the CIA cafeteria (his first time there) and interviews her alone. It’s pic’s second best scene. No thesp in this overlong mishmash can hold his or her own with Gandolfini.
It then takes The White House another 129 days to approve the mission. This passage of time is driven home with a sledgehammer. The rest is history. As we all know, the bad guy dies in the end, but before we get to the end we have to watch the Navy Seal attack on his villa in what seems to be real time — right down to the cataloguing of bin Laden’s computer equipment. Here’s where the title comes in. Your critic had no clue what it meant until he read it in “The Economist.” “Zero Dark Thirty” is military-speak for half-past midnight. It’s the hour when the stealth helicopters bearing the Seals landed in bin Laden’s courtyard.
What follows is almost classic sub-drop. That’s the depression a submissive can feel at the end of a torrid BDSM relationship with a dominant. To put this in context it’s the depression Kim Basinger’s character feels at the end of the affair in “Nine ½ Weeks.” Maya awaits the return of the Seals with baited breath. Her excitement is at a fever pitch until she opens the body bag containing bin Laden and then falls into a deep depression, signified by the tear she sheds gazing on his ugly face. Maya’s ten-year rush is over. Ten years. For her, the trackdown took the place of passion. Heck, at least she had ten years. Basinger got only nine and one half weeks from Mickey Rourke.
Pic was made on a budget of about $20-million, which does not sound like much until one remembers that its only star, Gandolfini, is on screen for less than five minutes. Tech credits are adequate, except for editing, where a cold machete would have helped. Some viewers may be offended by the point of view that torture is an effective interrogation tool.
“Zero Dark Thirty” is rated “R” for violence, language, and some nudity. Take your worst enemy. Handcuff him or her to the theater seat.