Zero Dark Thirty ★★★½


Rewatching All the President's Men a few months back raised my standards for history-channel procedurals pretty high. (See also: Lincoln.) This one doesn't fully commit to the pure information barrage, alas, continually trying to sneak a crowdpleasing lone-hero narrative through the back door. Maya's a great character in many ways, played with appealing hands-off toughness by Chastain, but she's valorized in a way that feels false in this context, what with yelling down Kyle Chandler's boss when he insists she give up the hunt for Bin Laden, scrawling numbers on his successor's window in an attempt to shame him into action, identifying herself as "the motherfucker who found [Bin Laden's compound]," etc. The movie keeps pretending to be about her and then pretending not to be, over and over, and consequently winds up as both a half-assed character study (final shot didn't do anything for me, I'm afraid) and a somewhat compromised procedural. Still plenty gripping—more and more so as it goes along; early waterboarding scenes felt rote to me, like slightly artier Jack Bauer—and there are a few stray, almost incidental moments in which it transcends solid cine-journalism. Not only does Zero Dark Thirty handily pass the Bechdel Test, for example (why isn't Jennifer Ehle a huge star btw? inexplicable), but there's a whole world of ingrained, casual sexism contained in the throwaway line "Was I lying or what?," spoken by one C.I.A. op to another who's meeting Maya for the first time, when she's still a few feet away and out of earshot. And there's no more glorious dialogue exchange this year than the one between Gandolfini-as-Panetta and an underling. "What do you think of her?" "I think she's fuckin' smart." "We're all smart, Jeremy." Exeunt.

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