‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is a Riveting Drama

by Eric Melin on January 16, 2013

in Reviews,Video Reviews

Check out videos of all my movie reviews on KSNT-NBC, KTKA-ABC, and KTMJ-FOX, Kansas First News.

The movie about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden arrives in theaters today amidst heavy controversy surrounding its depiction of torture by U.S. intelligence operatives. Regardless about what politicians think about Zero Dark Thirty, is it compelling entertainment?

Zero-Dark-Thirty-movie-PosterIn a word, yes.

Zero Dark Thirty is a remarkable achievement. Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal and Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (who both won for The Hurt Locker) compress 10 years of U.S. intelligence work into one morally complicated, riveting two-and-a-half-hour suspense drama.

Jessica Chastain plays a young CIA operative who develops a laser-sharp obsession with hunting down the world’s most wanted criminal. She grows thick skin and becomes accustomed to enhanced interrogation techniques as lead after lead fizzles out. Eventually, her intelligence and CIA money track a courier to Abbottabad, Pakistan and the most famous raid in modern history ensues.

What makes Zero Dark Thirty such a fascinating film is that it plays both as an engaging procedural thriller and a serious examination of the country’s moral compass. It is already doing what great movies do—starting conversation.

Nothing, not even the raid on the compound, is staged like a typical Hollywood film. Zero Dark Thirty won’t leave you feeling like the Americans who celebrated in the streets after learning of Bin Laden’s death. It will tie your stomach up into knots.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eric Melin January 18, 2013 at 7:40 am

Bigelow responds to the controversy: “I do wonder if some of the sentiments alternately expressed about the film might be more appropriately directed at those who instituted and ordered these U.S. policies, as opposed to a motion picture that brings the story to the screen.”

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2 Michael Bird January 18, 2013 at 7:40 am

In the beginning, the discourse over her depiction of torture wasn’t that she showed the use of it, it is that she seemed to put forth the idea that it was effective in taking down UBL. Her washing her hands and saying, “Well, I didn’t do it, I was just reporting what happened,” is frankly, bullshit. Again, we know from internal memos that were leaked that yes it happened and no it was relentlessly ineffective. THAT is the criticism is of her film; not that she depicted it, but that she depicted it inaccurately. Truthiness is not a standard, and if she’s going to go around beating her chest about the accuracy of her film, she should damn well take it on the chin when she falls short.

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3 Eric Melin January 18, 2013 at 7:40 am

Hmmm…can it absolutely be labelled “relentlessly ineffective”? The movie draws a threadbare connection, but a connection nonetheless. What it doesn’t do at all, however, and what she points out, is take a pro-torture opinion. So what you’re saying is that Boal and Bigelow should be criticized for portraying that connection when you are sure there was none there? Slippery. Why do we hold then all the made up shit in Argo to the different standards? Is there a difference between knowingly changing the facts for a better story? We already know that Boal composited events and characters for the sake of the story…

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4 Michael Bird January 18, 2013 at 7:41 am

I haven’t seen Argo yet, so I cannot comment on it, but it doesn’t matter. I think you’re mad at Argo’s win at the ridiculously irrelevent Golden Globes and have fallen for the A/B comparison of the two movies. This only underscores my loathing of these beauty pageants. They’re two different movies to be considered or rejected on their own. I’ve seen this one and as such am only discussing it specifically.

My criticism is of the liberal use of “thoroughly researched” and “painfully accurate” part of the marketing whilst at the same time, quickly dodging behind the “its a dramatization of real events” curtain every time she’s criticized for getting it wrong. She chose to dramatize the effectiveness of EIT. Period. And while compacting multiple events for dramatic effect, Boal skims over the 99.8% of the time that it didn’t turn up anything but horse shit.

We both know that most people have an understanding of the world that is 100% informed by pop culture. They know of no more news than what Jon Stewart puts on his show. So when something like this is regarded as accurate without question, knowing that this will be the only version of these events that people take forward really matters. Suddenly people have an abiding impression of EIT which is, its pretty effective so even if the ends don’t justify the means, why leave any doubt. *THAT* is slippery.

It’s remarkably pollyanna of her to assume that because she has sources saying x, y or z, that she wasn’t being manipulated by an agency that is rabidly wanting history to view it differently. She’s too smart to have not considered that, so why stand behind this depiction? Why not leave it ambiguous at most? The document dumps that followed the revelations about torture were more than capable of usurping her version of events (albeit in a relative way) and if it was as thoroughly researched as she asserts, then how can she not account for the differences?

To your point, she’s allowed to make it a dramatized reading for certain – it’s always been done and ever shall be. The problem for her is that while it is lucrative to capitalize on a current event and the passion attached to it, unfortunately it’s a double edged sword and when something is inaccurate, that passion is going to backfire. We are not done, as a nation, with the conversation about EIT or torture and passions are still very, very strong. Not demonstrating the overarching ineffectiveness of EIT *is* making a pro-torture film. I sorta think that’s the point she’s not grasping.

I’ve had students ask me if its okay for them to employ profanity or nudity or sex or whatever in their work and I always tell them that while they have creative freedom to depict whatever they like in their work, they do have responsibility for it and must address and stand behind the work in the face of critical redress. She’s being criticized for her irresponsible depiction of EIT/torture and she should be the first person to take responsibility for it and address it seriously, not begrudgingly shirking off the fact that it’s her and her writer identified on the one-sheet.

And as I say, hotel restaurant blasts and escapes through smoky kitchens are not enough to effectively dramatize trying to connect dots that are improperly labeled. The first two acts of this film are interminably dull and while intended to be (I suppose) no amount of sizzling up with brief explosions changes that. This film doesn’t have any love for it without the raid and as such, for me, wasn’t enough to save it.

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5 Lovella Mccloe April 3, 2013 at 12:43 pm

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