Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2012) The Hunt for Osama Bin Laden

I knew I was going to watch Kathryn Bigelow’s next movie, no matter what it would be about but I would have wished she had chosen another topic.

Zero Dark Thirty is an almost 3 hour-long movie on the hunt for Bin Laden. It starts on 9/11 … with voices of victims recorded during the attacks. Next thing we’re in a detention center in Pakistan witnessing CIA agents torturing a man. A male agent is torturing while a female CIA agent, Maya, is watching. Maya is new, recruited fresh from college, and assigned to one of the most important tasks in CIA history – the hunt for Bin Laden.

While she only watches the interrogations at first, she will later lead them and become the most important agent in this assignment. As early as 2002 0r 2003 she starts to follow a lead, a man she believes to be in contact with Bin Laden himself, a courier. Unfortunately the guy is very elusive, the captured and tortured men contradict each other, his name seems only a nick name, his true identity cannot be found. Eventually he is even said to be dead.

Maya is considered to be obsessed and her superiors start to doubt that what she is pursuing is real. But she won’t give up and is proven right in the end. The rest is history.

I felt very uncomfortable watching this movie. The torture scenes are unpleasant and the fact that the US, who always denied that they use torture, are shown doing it even more so.

Does the outcome justify this? The movie is showing the story as it was. Or is it not? That’s the big question. What we see are scenes showing a group of CIA agents trying to find a man, using every possible way, alternating with scenes from terrorist attacks. Islamabad, London, New York…. While the CIA hunts Bin Laden, the terrorists don’t sleep.

The movie takes a lot of time to tell the story and the first 2 hours are long. I couldn’t help finding the last action-packed sequence interesting. They show the final moments, when the special troops invade the compound where Bin Laden was hiding and how they kill him.

The movie is OK but certainly not a must-see. I’m clueless why anyone would want to make a movie about this. If you are not familiar with the details, it’s interesting to watch but it still left a very bad taste. It is like a documentary and never questions anything, never accuses. It seems to say that without torture, Bin Laden would never have been captured. That’s quite possible but does that make torture acceptable? On the other hand, terrorism is despicable…

I was wondering why Bigelow chose this topic. Because a woman found him? Since I’m not watching the news very often, I don’t know how much was known about the CIA’s interrogation techniques. Is the movie meant to get rid of the general public’s naivety about torture?

I don’t think I’ve seen Jessica Chastain who plays Maya before and couldn’t help comparing her to Claire Danes in Homeland. I’m afraid I like Danes much better. Not only as an actress but I also like her character better. She seems a tad more conflicted about what she is doing. Other actors worth mentioning are Jennifer Ehle, Jason Clarke and Joel Edgerton.

As I’ve just said above, this isn’t a must-see. I’m truly disappointed in Kathryn Bigelow.

Have you seen the movie? Did you like it?

A War Movie Gone Thriller: The Hurt Locker (2008)

Yes, I had to do it. I had to add something on this ubiquitous film.

The story of The Hurt Locker should be sufficiently known by now. We are shown a bomb squad on their mission to disarm bombs in Iraq. When a real danger addict is appointed to be the new leader of the squad things get really exciting.

Somehow, when I realized I liked it, I felt a soft tingling feeling of shame that made me wonder.

But the fact that I did enjoy The Hurt Locker doesn´t necessarily mean I think it is a good war movie. There was a whole lot of suspense going on. It was entertaining and it sure felt like a thriller. The possibility of every  bomb or object to prove deadly seemed like a serial killer lurking around in the dark. He sees you, you sense him. Creepy. I stopped breathing every time Sgt. First Class James started to cut those little wires.

While I was watching it I did not for one second question it. I felt just so swept away and liked it. Period. But afterwards I found it kind of problematic. One is almost grateful wars take place and offer us such a great topic of suspense.

I remember that I had very comparable feelings after having seen Apocalypse Now. The anti-war message was just not clear enough for me.

Same here. It´s like saying: yeah well, war is shit, we shouldn´t do it but so what, it´s fun.

Of course that is not what Kathryn Bigelow tried to say but it is what the audience could understand.

This potential to be misunderstood comes from the blending of the genres. Or rather the blending of major techniques of different genres. War movies don´t normally create this type of suspense. It would have been possible to show the same without creating the suspense.

Maybe I should put it that way: The Hurt Locker is one hell of an exciting movie but a dubious war movie. It is especially problematic as it shows a very specific bit of warfare in Iraq. Where every other movie with an attempt at realism (the most extreme example would be Redacted. Come to think of it, Redacted is actually the antithesis of The Hurt Locker. It is so boring it hurts) has often long boring stretches where nothing else happens but watching road blocks, this one shows it as if the war in Iraq had nothing else but moments that got your adrenaline pumping.

Be it as it may it is great filmmaking. Kathryn Bigelow is very good at that. If you want to watch another one of her movies either try Point Break (1991) or Strange Days (1995). Both are highly enjoyable without creating any guilty feelings. Especially the first one is one of the rare movies that I can watch again and again. And, as an additional asset, it will help you understand her technique and where she comes from genre and theme wise.