oscar buzz: thoughts on zero dark thirty

Zero Dark Thirty is fucking terrible. Oh that felt incredible to say “out-loud.” Goddamn, I have literally never walked out of a movie, but Zero Dark Thirty almost pushed me over the edge. It is actually difficult to have a movie full to bursting with controversy that literally bored me to tears. But what’s worse than boredom? This movie is remarkably stupid and poorly written and acted with all the care and craft of a high-school musical.

The movie opens with some guy torturing some other guy. We’re supposed to think that it’s rough and edgy… because the doe-eyed white lady is clearly concerned. She reminds the suspect to “not be a naughty liar.” So she’s a softie, right? But literally 2 minutes later, scruff beard-man talks to a colleague and says “She’s a raw new recruit, someone to fear.”

Wait. What?

The confusion increases as she spends the rest of the movie bouncing between RoboCop and scared almost… damsel in distress. She’s one of the most inconsistent characters I’ve ever seen, literally no hyperbole here. In the middle of the movie, she’s devastated(?) by another character dying… a character that she’s had two interactions with, the first of which was being mocked by her. The second they’re best friends? Sort of? Then she dies as a result of a monumentally stupid decision that’s telegraphed from a mile away (pro-tip, maybe don’t let terrorists into your military base.) Then she gets blown up. And as an audience we’re sad because we’re told to be sad. Doe-eyed girl is sad, so we’re EXTRA sad. She even starts drinking. *Gasp*

Then, from her sadness comes a moment that was so stupid that I almost left the theater. James Gandolfini goes “WELL HOW TO WE KNOW HE’S IN THIS SUPER-HOUSE? I DON’T BELIEVE THIS!” And then she goes “WELL IN THE MOTHER FUCKER THAT FOUND THIS HOUSE.” I did not make up that line. Some of this review is schtick, because I hated every minute of it, but that line actually happened. Doe-eyed looks into the camera and says “I’M THE MOTHER FUCKER THAT FOUND THIS HOUSE!” The audience in my theater ERUPTED with laughter.


This was the moment where I almost walked out of the theater. Once again, she shifts abruptly from soft to badass for no reason other than shitty writing and acting. It’s so bizarre, she doesn’t even change her tone. If she’d ended it with an innocent giggle and a “teehee!” it would not have seemed out of place. There’s a gigantic disconnect between her character and the events of the film. Saying someone is force to be reckoned with does not make them a force to be reckoned with.

As a brief aside, I brought this up following the viewing, and I was greeted with cat-calls and my friends calling me sexist. I’ll admit, this could sound sexist to an extent. In so many words, it sounds like I’m asserting that femininity is inherently weak. Not so, there are plenty of examples of femininity being strong, assertive, and a force to be reckoned with. Kill Bill is a terrific example of this. Beatrix is an unstoppable force, beautiful, yet vengeful. She’s doing everything she can to avenge her daughter’s supposed death, and yet at the end of the film, we see her as soft and loving.

And speaking of loving, there is literally no motivation for any character in the film. There’s not a personal relationship to speak of. People just act and we’re supposed to root for them because they’re white. Or monkeys. That’s not racist, that’s literally a plot-point in the film. We’re supposed to feel for monkeys who are killed off camera. Because they belong to beardy-guy. He actually says with his human mouth, “Goddamnit… they killed my monkeys…” BEAT. Like a human died. That’s how the scene plays out. Then later in the movie, doe-eyed girl is approached by a different younger, doe-eyeder girl, who then asks to have lunch with her. At which point she goes “I DON’T EAT OUT. TOO DANGEROUS.”

Why? She eats out several other times in the movie. Important plot points happen in restaurants. Like her character inexplicably being at the Marriot bombing in Pakistan. Bull shit. I do not believe that her character, who was supposedly based on a real “person” was there for a minute. It was so stupid and convenient. No, Kathryn Bigelow, you just wanted to blow up some brown people while we, as the audience, could watch doe-eyed girl react to the “horrors of war.”

Unlike The Hurt Locker, the cinematography is horrid. We just look at a thing, then look back at doe-eyed girl for how to feel. There’s not a single moment in the film where we, as an audience, are hit with anything remotely controversial. Is torture good? Just look at her face. Is bombing good? Just look at her face.

Which brings me to my largest point and biggest gripe. This movie is just fucking stupid, racist, and a chest-thumping. Yeah, we killed an 80 year-old man because he bombed us. We didn’t stop until that asshole was dead. Go us. Most pop culture that deals with this sort of thing is at least honest about it. It doesn’t purport to be anything more than a good-ol-fashioned “OOH-RAH!” This pretends to be art. At least Kid Rock has the good taste to just come out and say “Warrior” is a masturbatory exercise.

I elected not to use the names of the characters in this review because I didn’t need them. There are two characters that exist and the rest are wholly superfluous. We just look at the white girl and know she’s the good guy. It’s a thoughtless exercise filled with tedium and literally no tension.

The movie opens with the line “I own you.” And for most people watching and enjoying this film, that sentiment is spot-on.

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5 thoughts on “oscar buzz: thoughts on zero dark thirty

  1. Julien says:

    Dude spot on, this film was a joke. I literally guessed correctly verbatim when should would say “I’m 100% certain he’s in that house, well 95%”. I can’t believe people are so naive to think this is a good movie solely because of the history behind it. Worst movie I’ve seen in years!!!

    • coloneldoctorspenceresquire says:

      I was extra disappointed given how much I loved The Hurt Locker. Went in expecting a thoughtful look at the horrors of war, left the theater feeling filthy.

  2. Everything you said in this review is absolutely true. I have no idea how this got all the hype and why “doe-eyes” girl has been receiving a lot of praises for her horrific acting in this film. I have stopped watching the film after the “doe-eyed” girl said not to eat out to the newbie. It is such a horrible film and a complete waste of time.

  3. g says:

    Racist? Not even remotely. Boring? Very much so.

  4. Zach Theriault says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. Everything you said is completely true, and what really confused me was how it got so much critical acclaim. Even the first minutes of the movie with the “doe-eyed girl” confused me. During the torture scene she seemed to be genuinely disturbed originally with what was going on with the torturing of the guy and how she hesitantly gets the bucket to help with the water boarding. Then when he asked if she would help him she replies “You better tell the truth, and stop lying.” Turning her into a badass all the sudden. Other moments tempted me to leave, such as the one where the Marriott got blown up and people were in danger around her. She and her friend ran right out of the hotel paying no attention to the dozens of people dying and clearly needing help. Also, the flames just spouting out of the cooking appliances when they happened to walk by to escape looked like a ridiculous attempt to make it more action packed. I actually hated the main character (the girl) because of her flip-floppy character. At one point she is a blood-lusted revenge maniac and the next she breaks down crying and is desperate and the audience is not given a good reason as to the change in her character. The acting was utterly horrible, ‘I’m the mother-fucker that found this house.” Was just ridiculous one liners I would rather hear in an action movie with Clint Eastwood or the Governator. There was literally no social or political commentary at all to the morality of torture, bombings, war in the Middle East, etc. Had potential to question morality of such things and be an interesting philosophical movie with a dose of action. Instead, we got a pissed off bipolar woman with a gung-ho attitude. Also, I never saw any Arab not affiliated with America being put in good light or being pitied on during the film. Predator strikes apparently did not inflict any collateral damage and harm innocents in the Middle East. This film obviously seems to be a chest beating “America is number one” film.

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