Not Your Typical War Movie, Zero Dark Thirty

Everything that I hated about The Hurt Locker was resolved in Zero Dark Thirty. Though audiences have once again been transported to the Middle East and into a world of sand, war and bombs, Zero Dark Thirty is otherwise incomparable to the 2008 war movie. I’d been waiting for a while to find it, but I’ve officially discovered my favorite Bigelow movie.

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Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a hard headed CIA agent with the looks of a beauty queen and a mouth of a sailor. She has no boyfriend, no friends, no family and no life outside her job. Her mission: to find and kill Osama Bin Laden. We know absolutely nothing about her and she has no defining quirks to differentiate her from anyone else. Why should anyone care about her? Why should we? It seems like no one else does. She begins her story with bouncy curls, a well fitted suit and a penchant for a tidy desk. As the story progresses, she’s swamped in stacks of paperwork and videos, tee shirts replace suits and a ponytail replaces the once lustrous curls. You can feel the tension and pressure rolling off her her, taking over every aspect of her life, visibly and mentally hardening her. She becomes the ultimate hero, the person who sacrifices literally everything to fulfill her mission. And in the end, we aren’t forced to follow her back to her empty life back home (which was my largest complaint with The Hurt Locker) because we already know that once her mission is fulfilled, her life is over. She has nothing. She has spent almost half of her life finding one man and killing him, all from behind a desk. Her story is tragic, but the movie is not.

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In another departure from The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty is substantially less violent. Rather than taking a more “video game” route, the only deaths in the film are short and grazed over quickly. The death of Osama Bin Laden is shown in such a manner of fact way that the camera doesn’t even bother with his face. The only confirmation is one soldier saying to the shooter, “Do you realize that you just did?” and Maya’s nod of recognition after unzipping the body bag. In my opinion, this was the right way to go about it. By not dispaying him and instead showing the slow build up to the mission, it was clear that these men were going in to do their job and nothing more. There was no malicious or disrespectful behavior and there was no cause for celebrating, except maybe the fact that they were still alive. Quite simply, Zero Dark Thirty isn’t a war movie, but rather a suspenseful thriller. I’d more likely group this movie with Argo, another wonderfully paced suspense movie with only small bits of action.

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I have a hard time understanding the uproar regarding the torture tactics. Do we really want to sweep our actions under the rug so badly? I actually found the waterboarding scene to be fascinating. I’d read about waterboarding and heard about it, but I never quite understood how it worked until now. It’s a fact that this was a large part of how the US gained information in the war. By ignoring the torture aspect and pretending it never happened, Bigelow would’ve been lying by omission. And by showing Barack Obama’s anti-torture statement, it was easy to understand how that would affect these agents who had been trained in torture to get information. It changed their way of doing things and suddenly, they became much more vulnerable.

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The acting in this movie was phenomenal. Chastain was flawless and created an intimacy with a character who we literally knew nothing about. To be fair, every other character was of such little importance to Chastain, but fully deserved their few moments of spotlight. This is was the first time I’d seen Jason Clarke and I was floored by his transformation from scene to scene. Even Mark Duplass played his small role to perfection and was such a departure from his typical goofy roles. And I might’ve fallen in love with Fares Fares, that beautiful man. His role was so stubble and probably will be the most overlooked, but I can’t wait to see more of that beautiful face in the future. And I’m still convinced that Jennifer Ehle must be Meyrl Streep’s love child.

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I think this movie is important, I think it was very well made and I think it was entertaining. I really recommend that you go see it.

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