Sunday, January 13, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty, or They Killed My Monkeys.

Hey, that's not funny, bro.  My dad died in 9/11.

Dear Kathryn Bigelow,

One of the few popular criticisms of Zero Dark Thirty is that it just might go on a little too long.  I kind of agree.  I think it was about two hours too long.  I think I could have watched Zero Dark Thirty for thirty-seven minutes and been at least mildly entertained.

In reality, I think my enthusiasm lasted about fifteen minutes.  The opening torture sequence, while not particularly engaging, set the stage well.  A CIA agent tortures a captive, says, "dude", "bro", and "man" a whole lot, and we've got the opening to our story.  At least it was a scene.  The scene began, the scene developed, the scene ended.  It wasn't a particularly excellent scene.  There weren't really any lines of dialogue or deep thoughts to take from it, but it told a story.  It began a plot.  And then, the rest of the movie happened.

The rest of the movie wasn't quite made up of scenes.  I really think we'll need to call most of them snippets. You managed to take ten years of material, and cut it up into boring, procedural garbage.  I could have stayed home, watched NCIS with my mom, and enjoyed myself more.  At least NCIS has the awkward enthusiasm of a lab-geek goth girl... Never mind, that's not anything to brag about either.

I keep reading reviews in astonishment:  "Zero Dark Thirty" is a brilliant, suspenseful, thriller."  Where was the thrill?  Where was the suspense?  There certainly wasn't too much brilliance going around.  I can point out one scene of complete cinematic ineptitude.  We'll get to that later.  I don't understand how one can feel suspense when history has already spoiled the ending.  Every single person knows, going into the theater, that Osama bin Laden gets killed.  I know the ending.  The SEALS aren't going to die.  There is no risk that Osama bin Laden is not in that compound.  It happened less then two years ago.  My memory isn't that bad.

The difference between this scenario and say, Lincoln, in which everyone knows that slavery is abolished, is that, in Lincoln, the suspense isn't built upon the question, "Will the slaves be freed?"  The question is, "How in the hell are they going to get the slaves free?"  And then, it shows them doing that.  Zero Dark Thirty just shows the skeleton of procedure, and then all the characters ask questions that the audience already knows the answer to.

There could have been some tense moments, I guess.  But there weren't.  I'll go with the theory that people found the torture sequences suspenseful.  Whatever, bro.  Let's sum this plot line up so we can continue.

Jessica Chastain plays the newest CIA agent on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.  She has no back story, no family, no significant other, and no hobbies that are accounted for in the film.  The film actively refutes the argument that she has any at all.  I see what you've done, Kathryn.  She only cares about one thing: murdrin' terr'ists!  That's fine, we can go with that.  Is her obsession an allegory for that of all Americans?  When Osama is finally killed and she doesn't know what to do with herself... Are you talking about me, Kathryn?  Frankly, I don't care.  She's boring as hell, and she says stupid shit the entire length of the movie.

So, Jessica Chastain shows up and there's this guy torturing another guy.  She's repulsed at first, but she accepts it eventually.  It's all for a good cause.  Then, she heads to the CIA office where we're introduced to the rest of the team hunting Osama bin Laden.  And, by introduced, I mean that they say stuff and make facial expressions.  Then, there's some torture.  There's some following people around.  There's some arguing.  Some monkeys eat ice cream.  Then, the monkeys die and everyone gets really sad.

In the next snippet that actually feels like a scene, Jessica Chastain meets one of her coworkers at a restaurant.  For lack of a better name, we'll call her Bitchy Snapmouth, because that's about all she's contributed to the movie the entire time.  Literally every exchange between her and Jessica Chastain, until this point, has been passive aggressiveness.  They take a moment to talk about how Jessica Chastain has no interests in anything, and then part of the building blows up.  The two aren't hurt, and Jessica Chastain immediately jumps up and runs in the direction of the blast.  As she runs into the room, there are a bunch of people bleeding and dying on the ground and you briefly think, "Wow, she didn't waste a second in running to help these people."  Then, she leaves through the back door without helping anyone.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not even complaining about how that scene played out.  It just made me giggle a little bit.  Every once in a while, Kathryn, you threw in a scene of something blowing up.  Historically accurate, I know.  But rarely, if ever, were any of these suicide bombings even mentioned throughout the rest of the film.  It seemed as though you were just trying to remind us that the threat of terrorism still existed.  These events certainly didn't contribute to the plot.  You should have just made a documentary with reenactments.  I would have watched that.

Anyway, after Jessica and Bitchy Snapmouth survive the explosion, they become BFFs.  Snapmouth is waiting at a CIA base for an informant and keeps instant messaging Jessica things like, "OMG he's almost here.  Don't know what I should say!? LOL".  Or something to that extent.  Then, the only scene in the film that could have actually been suspenseful, becomes the laughingstock of the entire film.

You see, Snapmouth thinks the guards at the edge of the base are making the informant nervous.  So she asks for them to allow the informant to enter the base without being search.  The head of security says, "Whoa, Snapmouth!  That's not procedure.  I'm responsible for everybody's safety."  She insists, he calls off the guard, and the informant begins to enter the base.  This, Kathryn, was already more than enough foreshadowing.

Guess what happens next?  Seriously, you'll never guess.  As the informant's car is pulling towards them, there's a nice shot of a black cat crossing the street in front of them.  Whelp, I guess we know what's gonna happen now.

The car blows up and kills Bitchy Snapmouth.  No one is surprised.  Kathryn Bigelow wins a Razzy for absolute worst directing choice in the history of cinema.  I walk outside, start chain smoking, and muttering curse words.  Black cats are only allowed to cross the street at the beginning of horror movies.  And that's only allowed because it's an attempt at self-awareness.  Shame on you, Kathryn.  Shame on you.

So then some more stuff happens.  Jessica Chastain thinks she knows where Osama is.  She gets really aggressive and starts using the "F" word (it's "fuck') because that makes her cool.  She's not cool, and most of the lines she delivers seem really awkward.  This is not Jessica Chastain's fault, it's poor writing.

There's some procedural meetings because no one can be sure that it's Osama bin Laden in the compound.  The audience knows that it is the whole time.  The SEALS are hired to go in.  They crash a helicopter because they're not good pilots.  They kill some people, including Osama.  It's not suspenseful at all.  The whole audience cheers, yells something about America, and I start thinking that maybe America needs more gun violence.  Jessica Chastain cries because she doesn't know what to do or where to go now that she's accomplished her goal.

I would watch Les Miserables, with every character played by Hugh Jackman, and enjoy it more than I enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty.  You can make a stretch, and argue that it makes certain points about post-9/11 America.  You can bicker about whether it takes a stance on terror.  None of these points or arguments are interesting, and there is no commentary here that is remotely interesting.  Besides, Homeland exists, and it's already made more insights than Zero Dark Thirty could hope to accomplish.

Seriously, this is garbage.  And even if you liked it, you have to give me the black cat scene.



  1. Matt, I thought a catty woman wrote your piece because you sound like a whiny bitch. So you use the word laughingstock to describe the scene portraying the largest casualty count in CIA history and attribute the helicopter crash to bad piloting. It was probably Army Night Stalker pilots who flew the SEALS in because they're considered the best in the world. The helicopter went down due to updraft caused by the enclosed courtyard. But you're so smart you probably knew that right? You should write more about how you're thankful that there are people in the CIA and military who are willing to put their hands in the shit so you can keep yours clean. - Rob

  2. I actually thought this comment was a compliment for a moment when I read the phrase "catty woman", because that's usually the tone I go for. Pardon me for expecting a scene where a bunch of people die to be tense. It's not my fault that the scene was hilarious. "Is he supposed to limp like that?!" That's comedy gold right there.

  3. Yes. He was supposed to limp like that. That was what happened in reality.