Hey let’s watch the film where the Americans shoot down Osama Bin Laden!
I must admit had I not been swept away by The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow’s last film) I would have been as skeptical about this movie project as the people in my self-help group. A movie about Osama Bin Laden 1.5 years after the raid seemed as rushed and ill-thought out as a Natascha Kampusch adaption.
Kathryn Bigelow originally worked on a script about an unsuccessful attack in 2001 where Bin Laden escaped. The movie would focus on the CIA work in trying to find Bin Laden but during the writing process the assassination of Bin Laden happened and therefore the movie was rewritten.
But despite the rewrites the focus is on the CIA work in the background.
The propaganda film?
Opening with a torture sequence after some 9/11 phonecalls I prepared for a scene where American soldiers are tortured by the terrorists so that we would feel zero sympathy for the terrorists. Instead the torturers turn out to be American. And from this start to the intense finish the script cleverly evades every possible moment where you could fault as a propaganda film.
Probably my favorite “evasion” would be a dialogue where the interrogated terrorist is telling us “we wanted to kill American”. It immediately rang my Michael-Bay-propaganda-bells but instead the question is raised “who is the ´we` in this sentence?”.
The leading performace
Staring Jessica Chastain in a breathtaking performance we are lead through the ups and downs and spiral down the circle of violence and bureaucracy. And the skill of Bigelow is the fact that all this paperwork is never boring but actually intense. We are journeying through a hellhole of despair Chastain’s character changes in such a shocking way that at the end of the film you are feeling very hollow – this is an especially marvelous achievement because many other directors would have orchestrated the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout as something glorious.
Zero Dark Thirty like all great movies dealing with war never condemns or condones anything. The characters are characters and it’s their decision – the message is left for the audience to answer and will hopefully raise a lot of interesting discussion. The flipside of such a fantastic and provoking script is that many people simplify it and raise pointless controversies shouting “Bigelow promotes torture”. But all those idiotic simplifications will vanish over time.
Zero Dark Thirty – much like The Hurt Locker – will remain great.In the end it will be one of those moments where you browse Wikipedia in a few years and ask yourself: what were they smoking when they didn’t nominate Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director in 2012.