For Your Consideration: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is a bad movie

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It’s got nothing to do with the torture sequences, or the absence of any real contemplation of the moral/ethical consequences of using inhumane tactics to halt other acts of inhumanity.

Which you’d think would be a thematic pillar in a movie describing America’s aggressive response to the 9/11 attacks. And you could do that in the context of a juicy action film, assuming you create characters strong enough to animate the moral struggle taking place around them.

But “Zero Dark Zero”  has no characters. It has people, to be sure — humanoids walking and talking, arguing and making up and sometimes getting blown up real good. Some of them even have names. But who ARE they? Where do they come from? What drove them to this point in their lives? What do they stand to gain or lose?

“Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t go there. To wit:

Maya: So she’s strong, stubborn and kind of fearless. She can sit in on torture sessions all day long with the same emotionally detached chilliness in her eyes. She doesn’t seem to have any longstanding friendships or romantic connections. (doesn’t the movie hint that she’s a virgin?)  But where’s she from? What made her this way? What accounts for her blazing determination to off Osama Bin Laden? Why does she weep when she succeeds? “ZDT” never says. In the context of the film Maya exists, period. Like an Orc, only way prettier.

Dan: A torture expert. Seems most comfortable doing the good cop thing, but has no problem being a really terrifying hard-ass. It seems to wear on him — he opts to head back to CIA hq rather than re-up for torture duty. But if his conscience bothers him at all, we never hear about it. As per Maya he comes minus a past, emotional present or dreamed-of future. I wanted to care about him, but had no opportunity to empathize with him. His character has all the emotional depth of  his pet monkeys. Whose deaths (at the hands of evil-doers) occur off-screen and pop up as a kind of narrative after-thought.

Joseph Bradley: He’s a starchy military guy charged with the near-impossible task of leading the manhunt for bin Laden. He gets shit from his superiors and passes it on to his charges. And that’s it. The most fascinating thing about him is the meta-fact that he’s played by Kyle Chandler, who played the emotionally complex Coach Taylor on “Friday Night Lights.”

 The guy James Gandolfini plays: . . .is fun to watch mostly because it’s always a treat to see Gandolfini weave his own charm and complexity into a character. But how deep can anyone get with a character who is known only as: CIA Director?

So okay. “ZDT” does its action sequences really well — the climactic visit to OBL’s neat warren there in Pakistan really kicks ass. When she learns how wildly successful the raid is — and sees the blasted-to-hell remains of her quarry — Maya stands alone and lets a droplet of emotion slide down her cheek. If we had any idea what was going on in her head we might have felt something, too.

 

 

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