The strangest thing I’ve found about Zero Dark Thirty is how many people I speak to about the movie have a negative opinion on it, despite not having seen it themselves. This might be fine if they just thought it looked rubbish, but the reaction against the assumed politics of ZDT (i.e. military triumphalism, basking in the glory of winning the fight against terrorism, which is a laughable notion, sadly) has been so strong that they’ve blinkered themselves to even getting any peripheral information about the thing and so kept alive their imagined version of it.
It’s a little disconcerting, considering that most of the folks I associate with are pretty open-minded about most things.
For me, I’ll just say that Zero Dark Thirty was about as fair and cold a treatment of the last ten or so years anyone at my level of insider knowledge (i.e. none) could expect. The well-known real events – 9/11, 7/7, the raid on Bin Laden’s home – were treated with respect and very little cinematic interference (no score, voiceover or other tics to increase the drama) and, most importantly, I didn’t come out of the movie feeling like we won. I came out of it feeling like nobody had, a sentiment embodied, I think, in the final shot of lead character Maya crying when asked where she wanted to go the morning after the operation’s success.
I wouldn’t say I don’t have any problems with the movie – there is something eerie about watching a Hollywood dramatisation of a murder that happened less than two years ago, and it’s often hard to sympathise with any of the characters, though I suspect that’s likely the point – but I certainly wouldn’t steer folks away from it. In fact, if you’re actively avoiding seeing Zero Dark Thirty? Then you should definitely check it out, because I’m pretty certain it’s not what you expect it to be.
And if you still hate it? Well, at least we can argue about it.