Reel Reviews: A ‘nearly true’ view to a kill

Jessica Chastain, as CIA officer “Maya”, proves the pen is mightier than the sword in Zero Dark Thirty.   - Sony Pictures
Jessica Chastain, as CIA officer “Maya”, proves the pen is mightier than the sword in Zero Dark Thirty.
— image credit: Sony Pictures

A side from some minor character development, Zero Dark Thirty is the nearly true story of how the CIA hunted down and killed Osama Bin Laden.

We say, “Interesting tale, thoroughly told, but cold and impersonal.”

TAYLOR: This is a great film, but it’s very plain. I think its banality was intentional, so as not to turn it into some kind of statement. Probably a wise move.

Zero Dark Thirty starts with a black screen and audio recordings of phone calls from people inside the  World Trade Center buildings on Sept. 11, 2001. Then it jumps to a fledgeling CIA operative, “Maya” (Jessica Chastain), who is about to cut her teeth interrogating terrorists. From there the tale unfolds in chapters, named after the person, place or thing that would be the next crumb on the trail that ultimately led to Bin Laden.

HOWE: Zero Dark Thirty is put together very well. The opening with the black screen with the audio feels like director Kathryn Bigelow tried to give us some sense of the sheer panic and terror the victims went through, but also left us to our memories. I thought it worked better than just flashing up video footage or pictures of that unforgettable day.

TAYLOR: The audience is not given the chance to get to know, like or hate the people in the film, it is just a listing of events that unfold, with a common character “Maya,” to tie them together. Chastain’s performance is effective, but the film, like the character, keeps its distance. You are left to your own devices. Some might cheer torture and murder incorporated, I don’t, but it’s just a movie.

HOWE: I found Zero Dark Thirty to be a bit of a hybrid. Three quarters of it was filmed like a regular movie, then when the team went into Bin Laden’s fortress, it switched to shaky video camera mode. Again, I feel this was done for a specific reason, to make you feel you were actually there.

TAYLOR: I’m gonna use the word “interesting” rather than “entertaining.” I don’t think this film is about entertainment, exactly. To call it so might be too revealing. It’s like that game “telephone,” where you whisper something in one person’s ear, who whispers it to the next person and so on. Only when it gets to the end of the line it’s become something perverted, you’ve spent $200 million and a lot of people are dead. Never mind the unanswered questions...

HOWE: If you enjoy documentary-style movies and want to find some truth to how Bin Laden was found and killed I would recommend seeing this. There are a few parts throughout that made me scratch my head and I thought it was stretching it a little too far, but then again that’s why it’s only the nearly true story.

— Howe gives Zero Dark Thirty 3 very dodgy looking photographs out of 5.

— Taylor gives it 3.5 unused opportunities to confirm DNA out of 5.

The film is currently showing at the Galaxy Cinemas in Vernon.

Brian Taylor and Peter Howe are movie critics living in Vernon, B.C. Their column, Reel Reviews, appears in The Morning Star's arts section every Friday and Sunday.

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