I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not I should write this post and ultimately, I decided I should. While it’s impossible to ignore the controversies surrounding this film, what I want to emphasize is that Zero Dark Thirty is simply a good movie. It’s well done. Well written, well directed and well casted. You should see it for that reason. It’s nominated for five Academy Awards, after all, including Best Picture. It’s not nominated, however, for a Best Director award. Kathryn Bigelow, the well-known female director who won an Oscar for her 2008 film, The Hurt Locker, is under intense scrutiny for the authenticity of Zero Dark Thirty and whether or not her film stands as an advocate for torture.
It’s hard to even type that word—torture. I can’t imagine being a director and having to create and organize such gruesome scenes. During those scenes in the movie, you could feel the tension in every seat across the theater. It was uncomfortable and disturbing, but I think that was probably the point. The practice of “enhanced interrogation” is an ugly truth in America’s recent history. No matter your views or mine—because I really don’t want to get into that here—dealing with this issue in Zero Dark Thirty will force you to ask yourself some serious questions about morality, human nature, good vs. evil and heroism.
But questioning too seriously the fact vs. fiction element of this movie will unfortunately not get the average viewer very far. Will the average viewer ever truly know the details about what happened the night Bin Laden was killed? No. Will the average viewer ever truly know the details about the years and months and days leading up to the mission? Probably not. Will the average viewer ever know who was truly involved? Was Maya’s character really the ringleader behind the entire operation or did that just make for the best story? I don’t think we can ever be certain. I’m no expert either, but I have to assume that the CIA is smarter than releasing more information than they need to.
I recently read that great short stories only need to do two things to be successful. They should instruct and entertain. The same, I believe, is true for film. The best films teach us something, and if not directly, they at least make us think. The best films are highly entertaining. For two hours, they allow us to escape into a different labyrinth of people, puzzles and problems. They send us home feeling captivated and emotional and high. Zero Dark Thirty does all of these things. The controversy attached to the movie was not, in my opinion, a political statement, but rather the decision to make a powerful movie.
Whew, okay. Let’s lighten the mood. All things considered, 2012 was a great year for film. Oscar night is sure to please, no matter who takes home the cake. I’m still waiting to see Django Unchained, The Impossible, Life of Pi and Les Misérables but I have seen Argo, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook and they were all spectacular. My vote goes to Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper for their roles in Silver Linings Playbook. Who knew Bradley Cooper could really act?