Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark ThirtyGoing 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.

zero dark thirty 1Finally, 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.

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17 thoughts on “Zero Dark Thirty (2012)”

  1. I remember being okay with this movie, not thrilled really but I thought it was decent. I like your idea for the killing bin laden scene and the ending. I was pretty uninvolved when they were actually killing bin Laden, because like you say I knew what was going to happen, but also it took forever to find the guy, and I had no connection with those seals that were trying to find him so I was not worried about it at all on any level.

  2. I liked ZDT but didn’t love it. I did think it was overly slow in places and it felt like they didn’t know how to break this up so just threw in an explosion to make us realise that the bad guys are evil and everything they’re doing is justified.

    1. The car bomb in the middle of the movie? They even dragged that scene out cause I was already thinking that it will probably be some bomber or something.

    1. I must disagree, it’s maybe solid in terms of her style of movie making but she just isn’t my cup of tea. I don’t know.. Thanks for the comment though!

  3. I agree, this film could’ve been much better. My idea was to make it more like a Contagion style script, where you see some of Maya (who I disliked watching through the whole movie), some of the torture guy, some of the government guys, some of the Navy SEALS guys but it’s all spread out so it’s not just one unlikable character the whole time.

    I really like your idea of the film closing with the body bag zipping up though. That would’ve worked better for me.

    It really isn’t a thriller. It’s just a procedural with even less thrill than an episode of Law & Order. I didn’t hate the movie, but felt very lukewarm towards it.

    1. I think I was in the middle as well, it wasn’t bad per say but it didn’t do anything. It was all about getting this one guy and they made it .. very… uneventful even though the movie had many events. I kept thinking, nothing happens!!

  4. I feel this film was made perfectly. This is a perfect example of a film expressing the realism it’s visualizing for the audience. In your first recommendation you mentioned that you did not appreciate that time was going slow for you as well but that’s what the film is going for, or what I think its going for. This manhunt lasted 10 years and the “slow pace” of the film is intentional to experience the exhaustion of looking for Bin Laden. As for the ending, I also feel it was perfect. Throughout the whole movie we see Maya with this tough attitude, (with the exception of the death of her friend, though she didn’t cry in front of anybody) she’s always focused on the job, until the ending now everything is taken from her, she can finally breathe after 10 years, and now what is she going to do? I enjoyed your review and how you thought it could have been better but I think people need to see it for what it is, the realism of the film.

    1. Well .. I’m all for movies creating the feeling of realism but I can’t really say that I want to be exhausted by a movie. Yes, it took 10 years and yes it was meant to be exhausting, but I think I’m supposed to understand it.. not necessarily feel it myself. But we can agree to disagree which is the best way to go with different opinions. 🙂

  5. This would all make the movie much better. For me the fact it wasn’t thrilling wasn’t only about editing and direction as you pointed out but also because I didn’t care. I cared for the characters in Argo, they were all likable people. Now Maya…oh my God, what a miserable person. That “motherfucker” line was just terrible and so phoned in. It was like Maya wanted to play with the boys by being one of them but she just came off as a little girl in kindergarten wanting to kick a football when the boys are playing a game. I facepalmed for 5 minutes after I saw it.

    1. That was a very off putting moment for me as well, it was just so.. fake.. and it didn’t suit her persona, which was rather dull and in the absence of a better word real-life-boring.
      PS: I would have cared a bit more for the seals if they had shown them more, I mean, I like both Pratt and Edgerton but man, where they underused. I mean, 80% was Chastain and we didn’t even get to know her.

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