New Release: Zero Dark Thirty

There are many examples of filmmakers immortalizing our history, good and bad - several even nominated for Oscars this year (Lincoln, Argo).  Yes, filmmakers are putting their own stamp on history by choosing what facts to present and how, but that doesn't limit other filmmakers from telling the same story with a different focus or definition.  Whether or not they intend to, filmmakers provide a point of view for the audience to experience our own history.  Zero Dark Thirty tries to provide a point of view through which to reflect on the hunt for and killing of Osama bin Laden (OBL).  The movie has been the subject of controversy - that torture is shown and that Americans are portrayed as torturers.  Both are true, but that way oversimplifies what the movie is attempting to do - yes, torture is shown, but more the consequences of different kinds of torture (no ones fingernails are pulled out, no one is screaming, just whimpering after psychological torture).  And yes, Americans are doing it - but unlike other movies that portray torture of prisoners, no one is enjoying it.  It's not hard to watch, but it's easy to dislike.  So not particularly controversial, effective, but hardly groundbreaking.
The overall story is told by watching the CIA agents in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Maya (Chastain), Dan (Jason Clarke), Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) and station chief Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), as they amass information, some from torturing the detainees, and some from mining all of the global intelligence.  We see the periphery of some of their failures - they knew an attack on London was coming, but didn't know what or when.  They were able to thwart a few small things, but mostly weren't able to make huge strides in either predicting new attacks or stopping Al Quaeda from planning new ones.  Ultimately, Maya is able to follow a very old, under appreciated lead to the likely home of OBL.  Then we get to watch the Seal team invade the compound and take out OBL.
I did not like this movie.  It was incredibly dull until the final 30 minutes (it's a 157 minute movie though).  I have lived through the past decade in a state of consciousness (I wasn't a child, I wasn't in a coma, and I don't have children) so I felt well prepared.  The movie would put a date on the screen, going chronologically.  When a date appeared, I knew what event was about to be explained.  Then it happened.  Then another date would appear, and more events would be uncovered.  Sometimes, instead of a date, a "section heading" would appear (like a card in a silent movie) and we'd learn more about a few of the characters under that theme.  This meant that the terrific acting Jessica Chastain turned in took place in a vacuum - there was no support for her outrage, pleading, fighting, etc.  There was no tension build up, which is key when we know what's coming.  At the end a tear runs down Chastain's face, which did get to me - we were seeing that she had devoted her life to something that had ended.

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