Monday, 21 October 2013

On Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty is a movie almost entirely without merit. It is a slow, dull recreation of a true story which offers no commentary on the events that took place.

The facts are these. The United States of America undertook a ten year long manhunt, rooted in revenge and fear. They tortured to get names, and then captured and tortured more for more names. They eventually discovered a fortified compound, and after much deliberation, stormed the compound in the middle of the night to kill three men who were sleeping with their families whilst those at home cheered them on.

All of this is presented as distinctly unglamorous. The people undertaking the manhunt are unhappy almost all of the time, and live in constant fear and danger. Their investigation is not interesting, there are no detective leaps or great discoveries, no 'eureka!' moment or display of Sherlock Holmes level intellect. They torture people for years and methodically trace phone calls. It is not interesting to watch. There is little to no social commentary.

And I think that was the point.

The comparison that comes to my mind is between Zero Dark Thirty and Spielberg's Lincoln. Both are very long movies about key events in US History. Both share the same theme: this is how important things get done.

In Lincoln, the freedom of the slaves comes not from sweeping socioeconomic change, or from the massive war that was just fought. It comes from a dozen Democratic Congressmen who had to choose to obey or disobey party policy in one vote. That is how slavery was abolished. It wasn't all that dramatic, but in this film that's how it is done.

Both movies present that as their 'art'. This is their insight into how things really get done. What makes key events happen. And whether or not I agree (as an historian) with isolating events such as these, I think that they make for poor films. They deliberately make the incredible mundane. And as a sub-genre of Historical Drama, I find myself liking this approach less and less.

There is almost nothing to recommend about Zero Dark Thirty.

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