Day 7: Zero Dark Thirty

About halfway through my viewing of Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” Friday night – a month after it started its limited run – I had a realization.

I was watching ZDT, the film depicting the decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden and the raid that finally brought him to justice, with the same person I was with when I learned about the operation, my close friend Skyler.

On May 1, 2011, my first day of summer break following my sophomore at Arkansas State,  I was at Skyler’s house in Springdale. We were watching “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” on Netflix in his room.

Sometime after 6 p.m., I can’t remember when exactly, my dad sent me a text message asking if I was watching Fox News. I said no and asked why. He replied that we had killed Bin Laden with a bomb, which would turn out to be false, the bomb part anyway.

I quickly told Skyler to turn on the news. The rest of the night was filled with us watching CNN and NBC waiting for President Obama to address the nation as a large crowd swarmed the streets around the White House, celebrating the end of a 10 year search for the man who planned an attack that killed more than 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.

It was nothing short of cathartic.

I don’t have any strong emotions attached to 9/11, I was 10 at the time and didn’t have any idea what had happened until my Dad came to school to tell me.

But after 10 years, I was just as frustrated that we hadn’t found Bin Laden. I mean, we could find Saddam Hussein in a hole just a hand full of months after Operation Iraqi Freedom, but we can’t find Bin Laden?

That frustration is impeccably realized in “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Though I expect many of the people who attended my 10:15 showing of ZDT believed they were sitting down for an action movie (you gotta love misleading advertising), what they got was both a character study of one person’s obsession with tracking down any possible clue or suspect that would lead to Bin Laden, and a historical look the lengths and morally questionable lows it took to finally get to that three-story compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

I’m not going to get into the politics that have been driving a large amount of the buzz surrounding “Zero Dark Thirty,” I’ll leave that to people who care too much. I care about the movie itself.

If there was an encyclopedia of films listing movies what was the best definition of a certain genre, the poster for “Zero Dark Thirty” would be listed under the category of a film with no “fat.”

By no “fat,” I mean ZDT doesn’t have any distractions from the main objective of the story, which is the hunt for Bin Laden. There are no side stories or irrelevant characters bogging the plot.

As a result of this, there are short comings when it comes to the relatability of the main character of Maya,  played by Jessica Chastain. You’re given little information about where she came from or how she came to be involved in the hunt for Bin Laden. It factors into her not having a life outside of her search for Bin Laden, but the audience could have been thrown a bone.

That said, ZDT is also the perfect definition of a slow burn. There are short bursts (and I do mean short) of action, but nothing that puts the movie into the classic category of an action movie.

Even the final raid at the film’s conclusion is methodical and isn’t the typical shootout you’d get from other “war” movies.

When you get down to it, ZDT does absolutely nothing to glorify anything it is portraying, especially not the intelligence community.  Bad decisions are made, once promising clues disappear and comrades are lost.

But where the film really gets its energy from is the tense, cat and mouse scenes that occur all the way up until the finale.

Like the films “Valkyrie” (2008) and last year’s “Argo,” Bigelow is able to craft a suspenseful story from a narrative we should all know the outcome to. Through editing, acting and my personal favorite, the score, you’re lulled into a false sense of security about the outcome of the story.

And any movie that can make you squirm in your seat despite you knowing what’s about to happens is a good one.

If you have the patience and go into it knowing it’s not the action film it’s been advertised as, I think you’ll appreciate this look into our recent past.

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About Daniel McFadin

Writer for NBCSports.com. Former Sporting News intern. Graduated from IUPUI in Indianapolis with a master in sports journalism in 2014 and from Arkansas State University in 2013 with a degree in Journalism. Originally from Lewisville, Texas, now in Fort Worth. Ask me if I like Star Wars. I dare you.
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