I suppose Zero Dark Thirty is going to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and that's the last anyone will hear of it. (Unless they pick Lincoln. Or Silver Linings Playbook, although violent, crazy loners got considerably less loveable late last week.) Zero Dark Thirty is the best-reviewed American movie of 2012, but no one who sees the thing is going to recommend it to anyone. It's plodding and grim (and long) if you like that sort of thing, and apparently critics do. Christopher Orr at the Atlantic says it's
Utterly authentic! Enthralling! Extraordinary! (2x) Journalistic! Meticulous! (2x) Morally complicated! Powerful! Stunning! Sprawling! Troubling! Vital! Urgent!
Heavens to Betsy! And it's also a "tour de force" and "If The Hurt Locker cracked the door on (director Kathryn Bigelow's) cinematic gifts, Zero Dark Thirty kicks it wide open!" Which is the kind of writing adults generally eschew, lest they come off sounding like it's their first night in the big city.
It's also about as morally complicated as Julie & Julia. When this redhead gets an idea in her head (kill Muslims/make Beef Bourguignon) watch out! She won't take no for an answer!
(One of the small comforts in Zero Dark Thirty is that we don't see our goal-oriented heroine's home life. So we're spared the utterly thankless cute boyfriend character who supports her, then arbitrarily doesn't ("Can't you ever stop torturing people? This birthday meant a lot to me!") and then does again. See The Devil Wears Prada, J&J, every other movie with a woman in the workplace in the last 15 years.)
Woman gets idea, men don't listen, she doesn't back down, it turns out she's right.
And that's okay, too. There's nothing wrong with that movie. But it ain't urgent.
And when you apply the tropes of the genre to a movie that starts with a tragedy and leads to torture and assassination, it's kind of nauseating.
Zero Dark Thirty contains:
The scene where our heroine arrives at the office with high hopes but gets a crummy desk in a crappy corner.
The scene where she wants to do something but the boss gives her a Huge File of Things to do first.
The scene where she steps on another woman's toes... but then they become friends.
The scene where she tells her boss if she doesn't get to follow her gut she's going over his head.
The scene where she goes to the big meeting but doesn't get to sit at the table... but speaks up anyway!
I'm not saying these things didn't happen in real life. I'm just saying they also happened in Legally Blonde II.
A very long time ago, George Kaufman imagined Warner Brothers buying the rights to the Theory of Relativity and making it into a movie with Joan Blondell called Gold Diggers at College. Here's the pitch:
"... it's a very tough theory and, and there's never been a girl that's been able to understand it... and finally along comes a girl, attractive, of course, and says, "I am going to understand it"... So she pitches in and goes to work. She won't go to parties or dances or anything and she wears horn-rimmed glasses, and the boys think she's a grind and hasn't got any sex appeal. Underneath, of course, she's a regular girl..."
And it was funny in 1938, because it was so lame.
Did I say lame? I meant "vital."
The critics who love Zero Dark Thirty praise it for not taking a position, one way or the other, on torture and murder. Like that's a good thing, and not the moral equivalent of Saw. But Zero Dark Thirty does take a position. No one innocent gets tortured. No one who isn't bad gets killed, except by bad guys. The torturers and murderers -- our torturers and murderers -- aren't changed by doing what they do; they just become more determined. No one fucks up, except by letting their guard down, or by not listening to Extralegally Blonde. It's like Paul Fussell's description of Herman Wouk novels -- "their audience being untrained in irony, there are few blunders and errors and everyone does what he's supposed to do, with minimal chickenshit. Result: Victory." With apologies to Christopher Orr, it's the very opposite of "troubling." Our black sites are full of bad people, our hit squads never kill women or children when they can possibly help it, and the law is barely a technicality, and that's a good thing for everyone, especially women in the workplace.
It's not just vile, it's childish.
And going on about how deep it is just makes you sound like a boob.