I’m reposting this review just so it’ll be next to all the other reviews I’m posting. Hope you like it, for the first or second time 🙂

Spoiler Alert. There are lots of spoilers.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is a worthless piece of shit. It reduces all Arabs to two forms of the same subjugated stereotype: either terrorist or collaborator. Chastain acts like she’s talking to her cat, or some other entity that she thinks is incapable of judgment. The filmmakers would probably counter that her character is supposed to be “no-nonsense,” “emotionally detached in service to her country,” et cetera, but you know something? I don’t go to the movies to watch mannequins. I go to watch human beings. I think that’s a pretty reasonable request.

Speaking of human beings, the white guy Paul Newman wannabe who does the torturing in the first scene is just Joe Sixpack enough to represent conservative middle-America, while also having enough heart to possess pet monkeys (apparently), for the “more compassionate” viewers to relate to: basically, for the wimpster Obama voters who seek a rationale for the “War on Terror” that Barack never officially ended or Gitmo that he never closed. This disheveled-looking Paul Newman guy is just civilized—calm, rational, t-shirt wearing, non-sadistic, just-doing-his-job—enough while torturing people to make torture look civilized.

The blocking and editing of the film are like Law and Order: Criminal Intent: basic, dull, pedestrian. All it’s missing is that orchestral “DUHN-DUHN” between scenes. (By the way, a little exchange from a L&O: CI episode called “Scared Crazy”: Dr Lady: “We’re fighting terrorism.” Goren: “WITH terrorism.” P.S. He doesn’t approve.) Chastain and Paul Newman evoke Tolkien and Bob Marley in a movie about torturing people. Why? Two reasons: to make their characters seem real (and moral), and to make it look like this movie has anything to do with the actual world we live in. It’s pitiful and sacrilegious. Why not mention Gandhi as well? Or Beyonce?

The Arab who gets tortured in the first scene is just light-skinned enough to make the whole scene NOT look exactly like two white people torturing a brown person, which could come off as racist, keeping in mind America and the West’s long history of enslaving, torturing, and killing non-white people. In a moment of totally shameless American exceptionalism (not to mention sloppy writing), Chastain talks about how she was “spared” after a suicide bombing basically so she could finish the job of taking out bin Laden, as though some sort of fate or divine destiny is leading her effort, and not monomoniacal ambition, or bloodlust, or whatever it is. The CIA leader guy (her boss) says “I don’t give a fuck about bin Laden,” and that the specific terror cells should be focused on, to which Chastain (in her only scene of what appears to be consensual acting) replies that bin Laden is responsible for all of their terror acts and that if we kill him, the terrorism will cease, with which we are provided no evidence at all. In fact, what he says makes a lot more sense. He shuts her down flat with the unfortunately sexist and mental-illness-phobic, “You’re out of your fucking mind,” but it still feels good to see her put in her place. (What?! This is what I’m taking pleasure in? Women being put in their place? This is the character I’m supposed to want to WIN! This movie is poisoning me!)

By the way, why are there a notable number of apparently powerful women in this movie? Is this based on anything that happened in “real life”? Or is it post-genderal Liberal Hollywood idealism in a film that takes James Frey-esque liberties with “what really happened”? I think it’s good to depict women in positions of power in order to challenge expected gender roles, but where is the truth of this so-called true story? Who ordered these things to happen? Was it a guy or a girl? These things matter. When she states with “100%” certainty that bin Laden is in Abottabad, she convinces people with her confidence alone, not with any actual incontrovertible evidence. Is that the feminine mystique working? Are women not as burdened with the burden of proof as men are because they happen to be attractive and redheaded? Where is her superior ability? Where is her high place on the knowledge hierarchy? Bigelow does women a disservice with this one.

In terms of writing: In one scene, Chastain appears to be narrating to the audience in crass vernacular. Then it turns out she’s writing an email. With scenes like this, Bigelow’s desire to mix common accessibility with serious Sorkin-esque technical dialogue collapses into a sagging, poorly acted, toneless, babblefest of mumbling, mannerless, totally un-engaging young actors with unfamiliar faces. Part of why the dialogue suffers is that it’s all a means to an end: the climactic killing of the man most hated by Americans since Hitler. In an early scene, she describes anti-American forces as “radicals, not interested in money,” just so the audience understands that having passion and righteous indignation and NOT doing things for money makes you a “radical”…hey wait! Doesn’t that mean America is radical too, if we’re NOT in this region of the world for money, but instead because we were brutally attacked? So then we ARE in this region because we’re interested in money? OIL MONEY, perhaps? It’s amazing that Bigelow would choose to make such an anti-establishment point in her big Hollywood movie!

Hold on, this is an anti-Arab propaganda film. We have to make the freedom-haters look irrational, crazy, and dispositionally unrelatable. And if you don’t care about money, you’re irrational. Simple.

Seeing as the CIA was obviously okay with torture, and yet Bigelow wanted to screw around with the facts for more “drama” (since it’s “only a movie”), why not have her main character say “STOP TORTURING HIM!” in that first scene, so that not only do we like her as a character, but also Bigelow can directly CHALLENGE any pro-torture narrative in a big Hollywood movie and expose torture as not only ineffective but highly immoral and unacceptable? But no. She reflects status quo pro-torture opinions for greater “drama” and to give us Americans the emotional charge of seeing lily-white people beating up helpless Arabs. Is it dramatic to her to torture her audience with these plastic, emotionless zombie-characters? The lack of recognizable actors in the movie was probably to save money, since everyone who comes to see “Zero Dark Thirty” is only waiting for that climactic scene with bin Laden anyway, and doesn’t care who’s on the screen or what they’re saying all that much anyway.

I don’t trust, know, or care about any of these characters. I can’t remember any of their names, and I’m not interested in their specific relationships. There are one or two short scenes involving characters’ personal lives, essentially included for no other reason than to make this look like a real movie and not just a pure propaganda piece. Zero Dark Thirty’s main problem is that everything prior to the killing of bin Laden is just a means to reaching that end; that’s the only reason anyone came to see this starless piece of crap (oh, and because it’s “controversial” about torture). Everything that happens is foreplay to obtaining the emotional release of watching huge muscular guys storming a compound and killing a terrorist in a massive “fuck yeah” pro-America circle jerk. It sure is nice having superior weapons and equipment!

The final scene, of Chastain crying while sitting in the helicopter, mixes stupid dialogue (“Where do you want to go?” the pilot asks her, as though that wouldn’t be arranged by SOMEONE beforehand), with the image of the poor sad white lady crying now that her life’s work has been accomplished at the young age of 22 or whatever. In reality, this shot is intended to make white Americans look compassionate. “Look,” we’re supposed to say, “war is so hard and terrible, even WE can’t take it sometimes, AND WE CREATE IT!”

Lastly, the fact that the CIA relies on Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini, the only bit of casting that makes you say “huh”) to plan a “hit” on bin Laden demonstrates America’s devotion to images of power.

Save your time, save your money, save your mind, and just do some internet research about torture to get the real truth and the real drama and the real characters, everything Bigelow could’ve included if she’d really wanted to make an actual movie.

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