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Review: Zero Dark Thirty

PUBLISHED: 10:23 28 January 2013 | UPDATED: 10:23 28 January 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

Archant

Best film Oscar is a hell of a weight to burden a picture with. The truly great ones - Godfather, Annie Hall, No Country For Old Men - can brush it aside but a lot of really good films become encased by it, defined solely as Oscar movies and it slowly erodes their standing.

No film has been so completely decimated by an Oscar win as The Hurt Locker. Before, it was a nerve-shredding exercise in suspense; after, nobody had a good word for it.

To ensure her follow-up doesn’t suffer the same fate, director Kathryn Bigelow has made a solemn juggernaut statement that any number of awards can be attached to as unobtrusively and harmlessly as they were to The King’s Speech.

ZD30 covers the decade-long search for Bin Laden. (Suspiciously it was in production before the assassination. Hollywood film about the failed hunt for Bin Laden; what internet conspiracy theorist will believe that?)

Too soon? Maybe not. Film-makers have singularly failed to add anything to the events of 9/11 because its visual documentation was already completely covered on the day.

The absence of any film coverage of its payback means that it is only a spectral event in the American consciousness; the duty of ZD30 is to give it a physical reality.

If there had been proper news coverage of the actual event, it would no doubt have been much more sensationalist than this.

It’s a functional piece of film-making with none of the suspense of The Hurt Locker. The few times there is surprise Bigelow tips off the audience it is coming. (Basically whenever the film pauses from its brisk documenting of events, someone is going to be blown up or shot at.)

The narrative the film provides is the traditional American tale of the single dogged individual, a CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain), who pursues the monster despite everybody else’s objections. The bulk of the film is taken up with the kind of standard War On Terror espionage tropes – the desert assignations, the endless sifting through the files of Abduls and Mohammeds, and the backroom waterboarding – until finally the Navy Seals saddle up for the real-time recreation of the assault on Bin Laden’s bunker.

I guess it needs its bloated running length to fully suggest the enormity of the task, but it makes you feel every one of those 157 minutes and you sense that the real reason is to minimise the chances of anyone enjoying it as a revenge saga.

No doubt it will be criticised as propaganda but it is an odd propaganda that has its heroes shooting people in the back, terrorising children and spending the best part of a decade getting absolutely nowhere with such a conspicuous manhunt. I can’t imagine too many people punching the sky and shouting “Youeseh” at the end of this.

ZERO DARK THIRTY (15)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Starring: Jessica Chastian, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini and Joel Edgerton

Length: 157 mins

***

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