My mid-movie review of Zero Dark Thirty, scribbled in the dark on a bit of cardstock that backed some checks in my purse, was short: “intense, grim, dystopic” and “not as tense as Argo.” The film is, of course, fiction, but we all know about extraordinary rendition, interrogation and attacks by terrorists. The modern world is messy and this was brought home to an American audience by this well-filmed movie: we are targets, and, we’ll do what we can to retaliate.
Despite my amateur awareness of the techniques required to artificially render a scene as realistically as possible, whatever techniques used by the director seemed to be invisible while I was immersed in the story. I don’t remember seeing any of the dramatic ‘circling’ by the camera (a technique that leaves me dizzy) and little of other obvious filming styles that telegraph to a viewer that ‘you’re not really there.’ Much of this film appeared to be from a fly-on-the-wall viewpoint minus the static unblinking stare of a surveillance camera, and the viewer couldn’t easily hide from the knowledge that ‘something like this really happened.’ Those helicopters took a long time to get where they were going.
Although the film wasn’t as tense as Argo, it replaced Argo’s tightly wound suspense with an uneasy sad weight, the weight that for a portion of the world’s population Americans aren’t the flavor of the month. We want so much to be liked, but some people just can’t see our homespun goodness. Adding to the weight is that the people employed to minimize the danger for us can’t always play a civilized game of either keeping our information secret by simple means, or finding out what other people don’t want us to know merely by eavesdropping or reading the mail of those other people. The movie is a graphic reminder of what George Orwell’s “rough men” do on our behalf to other rough men, and sometimes to those who have yet to do anything to us. Too bad it’s a cycle not easily broken, if, indeed, it can be.
Trivia about the movie is at IMBd.