February 11, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Jessica Chastain and a bunch of other vaguely familiar looking people like this guy

I dreaded watching this movie. With all the controversy surrounding the "enhanced interrogation techniques" scenes, I thought it would be too dark and difficult to watch. It turns out, I lack empathy. 

Back in college, I took a class that was billed as "creative writing." The only thing 'creative' about it was its description - the professor was an avid member of Amnesty International and I spent four months reading stories of child soldiers being trained to kill, female genitalia mutilation, and all other sorts of horrors. Being a normal human being, it was difficult for me to read without cringing and feeling horrified. But eventually, it became a little like, 'Oh, a little boy got his hand cut off because he didn't mine enough diamonds? Sad. Next story.'

I felt similarly watching this movie. For one thing, we all know what happened! Maybe not every single detail, but all the news time devoted to exposing the inner workings of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay had already prepped me for what was shown in the movie. It was almost disturbing how I was able to snack on cookies while watching a man get waterboarded. So all the hype over the intense interrogation scenes fell a bit flat for me. But like I said, I apparently lack empathy.

Beyond the interrogation scenes, the movie reads like the average military/spy/political movie. Yes, it's based on actual events, which helps bolster its appeal, but that doesn't necessarily make it a Best Picture contender in my book. 

So what about all the buzz surrounding Jessica Chastain's performance? It's deserved. At first, I wasn't so sure. She was good, but was I really wowed? But as I thought more about it, I realized what she does in this movie is so understated, it's easy to overlook. It's much easier to command attention for a performance in which an actor uses and accent or portrays someone with a disability or something, but to play an ordinary person without overdoing it? It's impressive, really. Just ask Sarah Jessica Parker, who can't help but over-emote in every situation she plays.

Final word: "Interesting" should not be confused with "entertaining." 

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