It's pretty hard to write about Zero Dark Thirty right now because very few people can actually see the movie yet. As of December 19th, it's playing in NYC and LA but the film won't open in the rest of the country for over three weeks (January 11th). Since folks who live in NYC and LA don't really think much about the rest of the country and since most people who write about movies live in one of those two places, the media has already started slinging spoilers around like it's no big thing.
If you do happen to live in NYC or LA, stop reading now and go see the movie before you get exposed to all the online "discussion" about a movie that very few people have seen. I got to see Zero Dark Thirty before the articles started showing up and it's definitely the kind of movie best experienced before you hear a lot of half-informed opinionated noise about what the filmmakers' agenda.
If you can't see the movie until January, there's a lot of opinion flying around out there that might color your experience if you pay too much attention. There are a couple of debates worth looking at.
What's weird is that ZDT is getting subjected to this convoluted release because of a lot of uninformed attacks on the movie, attacks that claimed the film was an attempt to influence the presidential election. Rather than fight through the claims both parties would generate, the film was held back for an Oscar-qualifying run in December (hence the New York and Los Angeles plays) and punted to January for the rest of the country.
One of the most impressive things about the movie is screenwriter Mark Boal and Bigelow's decision to focus on the national security professionals who have to deal with politicians but find ways to do those jobs outside of the shifting winds of whoever's in power this film. It's not a pro-Obama film. It's not a pro-Bush film. Those guys both exist in the background but they're not part of the day-to-day thought process in the movie.
Once Zero Dark Thirty comes out and the people who actually do this stuff for a living can assess it (instead of film critics who have no idea and politicos who haven't actually seen it), we'll know a lot more about how accurate the details of the story actually are but Bigelow and Boal make it clear that the movie is "based on first hand accounts" but they're more interested in making a great feature film than attempting a documentary.
Their lead character, CIA analyst Maya, might be getting a lot more flack if she wasn't so obviously "Jen" from No Easy Day. The Washington Post has already identified her and claims that she's not popular at work. The movie also takes a doggedly observational approach to enhanced interrogation, refusing to offer opinions in a way destined to piss off people on all sides of the torture debate. They also obviously had a lot of access to folks who know the real story, access that might lead to some negative career ramifications for some of their advisers.
I saw the movie a second time last week and it's worth seeing at least twice. Our full review is coming later, but this is definitely one you want to see for yourself. Ignore MSNBC, Fox News, Good Morning America and all the rest. Come back here in January once our readers have had a chance to actually see it and maybe we can have a real discussion about a movie that's sure to help define the history of our 21st conflicts.