After a mind-numbing two and a half hours of Zero Dark Thirty last night, I came away with a single piece of information: Jessica Chastain has amazing hair.
That red mane stays toss-worthily silky even in the deserts of Afghanistan. The dust clouds raised by helicopters landing right in front of her can’t dull her plastic glossiness. Nor can the sight and sounds of torture alter the uncanny blandness of her expression.
The movie’s much-talked-about scenes of torture are peculiarly sanitized: shown, but not shown. There is no real sense of agony or degradation. The chief torturer’s lines are a bunch of clichés straight out of the Hollywood B-movie playbook. And the effect of torture on both victim and perpetrator? So far as this movie is concerned, non-existent.
And this is what’s being touted as some kind of breakthrough for women? It’s hardly news that there are women CIA analysts, or women movie directors. And after seeing the infamous photos of Private Lynddie England at Abu Ghraib in 2004, do you really want to join the chorus of “Wow, look, a woman torturer!”
Zero Dark Thirty is a movie with zero point of view. It has no engagement with any of the political and ethical issues it indicates but never explores. Despite its subject matter, it is, in the end, a movie as bland as its star. Its “reality-TV” lens on the slow accretion of intelligence work is merely confusing. And I suspect director Kathryn Bigelow knew this, interspersing moments of ham-fisted emoting to keep her audience from nodding off.
All of which raises the question of why this movie was made at all. A question whose answer apparently lies in the swell of orchestral music toward the end, signaling American triumphalism.
But my reaction was more of a shrug.
“We” killed bin-Laden, true. And…?