Zero Dark Thirty: Getting Into the Ambivalence in the Hunt for Bin Laden

Posted: January 12, 2013 in Movies

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Zero Dark Thirty opens with a black screen and a montage of escalating frantic 911 ones calls coming from the collapsing World Trade Towers and then cuts to a CIA black site where an interrogation involves the use of torture that involves water-boarding as a female novice investigator uncomfortably watches on.   That scar of opening calls heals into the torture scene and into her own future interrogations of suspected Al Qaeda supporters where she abstains from torture– deferring to her own mix of honey, bribery and appeals to do the decent thing– the one concession that acknowledges the need to recognize the humanity of the one held captive.   Zero Dark Thirty is a revenge film that balances treating the enemy as an abstraction to be able to sanely and competently  do a difficult job with the need to pander to that same enemy’s human needs in order for him to betray himself and his cause.  Encapsulated in Jessica Chastain’s Maya CIA analysis-interrogator director Kathryn Bigelow has orchestrated a cracker jack thriller  where revenge is sweet in the pursuit but sweetly vinegar in the achieving–  if that is all you have ever known.   The almost real-time night raid that climaxes the movie is skillful and suspenseful if a bit anti-climatic, perfectly in keeping with the ambivalence of the previous 2 hours.  Zero Dark Thirty gets an A-.

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