A film that manages to piss of both Democrats and Republicans using the same scenes but for different reasons is bound to be interesting. The relationship between Hollywood and Washington has a long history of symbiosis, and the Oscars can sometimes be a legitimation or criticism of direct parties or policies (see: winners speeches of Fahrenheit 9/11, The Hurt Locker, Milk…). The irony is that whilst most people believe that Hollywood is ‘liberal’, the films that it churns out as blockbusters (to fund the industry) are mostly highly conventional and conservative – full of family values, patriarchy, heteronormativity and gung-ho American-exceptionalism. What more could right-wingers want?!
Zero Dark Thirty is the story of the capture of Osama Bin-Laden through the eyes of a feisty C.I.A agent (Jessica Chastain) called simply ‘Maya’ – like she represents an apocalypse. The film is split explicitly into three main chapters: Torturing people in order to find Bin Laden; battling bureaucracy into action after they discover where he is; and the final night vision action scene where they (literally) go in for the kill. Depending on your age (in relation to 9/11) and your interest in terrorist-porn (admit it, you watched Homeland and felt like an insider) it is hit-or-miss on how much the build up translates to ‘drama’ or ‘thriller’. If you care about the intricacy of the politics of the mission, then this will tick the box of Political Thriller. If you care about the struggle of a female in a man’s world then it will feel like a Drama. If you only care about seeing Bin Laden’s brains blown out…you probably wont care about this film.
The acting is great. The misé-en-scene is great. The script is great. But the film is somewhat boring. The action is too recent for it to be historically of interest (I saw this film fresh with the memories of end-of-2011 news programs recanting the same story and channel 4 documentaries that were more factual and exciting.)
Much seems to have been said about the gender politics of the film (including me above). A female character…? From a female director?! It must have something to say about feminism! I think this misses the point – the Oscar season this year is heavily racial (Django/Lincoln/Argo/Zero Dark) it is hard to pick which film was the most insensitive to its foreign hosts. I heard that this film was being illegally smuggled into Pakistan and was being roundly laughed at due to its depiction of the country as a 1950s sandy shanty-town. I admit that I have not been to Pakistan, but I imagine that it is nothing like what is presented in this film.
Zero Dark is worth the watch simply to guess which scenes pissed off which politicians. That simple viewing exercise will teach you more about American politics than the overall narrative does.