Going through the entire list of Best Picture nominations finally ended up in a place where the three last movies were the ones I wasn’t excited to see. Zero Dark Thirty happened to be one of them because of Bigelow’s earlier work, The Hurt Locker, which despite its award success, left me a bit unsatisfied. And as my suspicions about her newest war related work accompanied me throughout Zero Dark Thirty, I was yet again a bit disappointed and honestly, bored out of my mind.
Now, I thought about writing a long critical review of how things didn’t work out the way they could have, how Bigelow’s slow pace of story telling is rather a downfall than something to give praise for – but then I found a better solution. Instead of criticizing the movie, instead of commenting on the acting and the writing and all that, I will present couple of recommendations of how Zero Dark Thirty would have worked for me! Bare in mind, I’m no director but having seen so many great movies, I’m pretty confident about my own opinions. So these recommendations are in a way things that I would have done differently in order to enhance the effect of the movie for me personally. Of course, these won’t do no good for the movie at the moment but I like to imagine the kind of end result after these recommendations and for some reason, I like that version of the movie better.
First recommendation would definitely be shortening the entire movie to a two hour production, the eliminated 37 minutes would mean a better flow of the plot. Though, I wouldn’t necessarily take away the descriptive scenes, rather those that added no or limited amount of context. For instance, the scene where Maya (Jessica Chastain) walks to her apartment and has dinner – we get it, she’s lonely, we established that way before that scene and even had the indication in a conversation. Now, there were multiple empty scenes to add to that, there were various scenes that felt dragged out in order to create a feeling of “time going slow” for the leading character(s) – what I did not appreciate was the fact that time was going slow for me as well. All in all, speeding up the flow of the plot would be my first recommendation and simply editing out things in addition of adding more of those numbers written on the glass – that was a nice touch.
While the shorter version of the movie would certainly already have a better effect, there were few things I would have eliminated as well. For instance the “chapters” appearing on the screen every once in a while. In addition to dates and locations, the titles on the black screen were cutting off the movie and they kind of broke the connection. In another words, Zero Dark Thirty had so many elements going on that it felt as if it was three different people editing and putting it together. And before I forget, I want to recommend changing the end as well. Honestly, the scene where Maya walks onto the plane and is the only one there – it is her moment of triumph, alright, but I would have placed it differently. The actual end happens before the end with Maya looking into the body bag of Osama: my version is with the camera inside the bag, pointed at Maya’s face – triumph moment – then closing up the bag and making the screen go black – the end! I mean, honestly, doesn’t that sound like a better ending? Abrupt and thought provoking, rather than dragged out.
PS: Now in this scene, she uses a very strong word – “motherfucker” – in front of the CIA big boss which felt so out of character that it bothered me for a while. So composed, never cursed during the movie and then, suddenly she is all bad ass and calls herself a “motherfucker” – in my eyes it was a failed attempt to create a powerful sentence for Maya.
Finally, let’s come to a point that bothered me the most, and it is strongly related to the descriptive word about the movie – according to IMDb Zero Dark Thirty is a thriller. Now, thrilled was the last thing I felt during the movie and even the previously mentioned recommendations couldn’t fix that fact. The reason is simple as well, we all know how the movie is going to end! There’s no thrill of finding out either Osama was killed or not, we all know he was – there is no way Zero Dark Thirty could surprise us with that and it was decided long before the movie even came out. The end is not predictable, the end is a matter of fact, it’s set in stone so the thrill should be created with something else. Now, I recall Argo solving that situation very well! The scene where they are on the plane, finally escaping, we all knew they would, and yet, it was full of suspense. How? Well, through directing and editing – it was put together as a very thrilling scene and it worked wonders to my nerves. Therefore, my final recommendation of how Zero Dark Thirty could have been a better movie for me is regarding the take down scene where the navy seals go into the house.
Imagine the scene, which originally was almost as slow as the movie itself, with just the audio. Just like the movie started, it was the 9/11 descriptive scene with just the audio on the black screen – now, imagine hearing just the voices of those soldiers but instead of the black screen, we have Chastain’s close up. Chastain is good enough to emote those kinds of emotions for about 2-3 minutes, listening to everything, feeling hope, fear, all that stuff. You hear gunshots, soldiers giving orders, them calling out for the bad guys etc. until the final guy gets shot down and there is the possibility of him being the ultimate guy Chastain’s character has been looking for all these years. End scene.Show Chastain waiting for the seals to return, her seeing the body bag, navy seals letting know they found information, all that while Chastain’s character walks towards the body bag. Enter the actual end scene I was telling you about earlier – audience thrilled!
That’s about all of the things I would’ve wanted to see during those final scenes of Zero Dark Thirty – why? Well, it adds mystery, it’s a thrill not knowing how it went down, how things happened (though I doubt they happened exactly like that anyway) – not seeing and only hearing is a powerful tool of creating excitement. And excitement is what is missing in Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty but I’d like to think that the version I create in my head by taking into account those recommendations, that version is a bit more thrilling. But using my imagination to create something better, is sadly not what I’m looking forward to while watching a movie.