Review: Why I disliked ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

by Abdulnasir Imam

Basically, this is a one-sided story told from the CIA’s perspective (so you know they’re the good guys) and unfortunately (or fortunately) it’s not the two-dimensional Pakistani/Afghan/Muslim/Arabs that suffer from the one-sidedness of the story; it’s the Americans.

I didn’t expect to watch Zero Dark Thirty anytime soon, it just so happened I got one of those “for your consideration” copies, so I decided to see what all this Oscar brouhaha was about. From the beginning it doesn’t take long for ZDT to enforce all the negative stereotypes of Americans you’ve ever known or heard of to come to mind. The imperialism, the arrogant behavior is all on display. Basically the behavior the world has been trying not to associate with America for the past ten years just comes back, flooding your senses (not good!).

The torture scenes are an intricate part of the movie, I understand that. I’m the guy who didn’t throw a tantrum over Tarantino’s Django Unchained, even going as far as defending it. However, the torture scenes in ZDT are prolonged as if to justify to the world America’s use of torture (remember water-boarding?). For the record it doesn’t work. The main character Maya (played by the wonderful Jessica Chastain) goes from a naïve do-we-have-to-do-that girl to an it’s-alright-we’re-defending-ourselves woman who survives a nearby explosion as well as an assassination attempt.

Basically, this is a one-sided story told from the CIA’s perspective (so you know they’re the good guys) and unfortunately (or fortunately) it’s not the two-dimensional Pakistani/Afghan/Muslim/Arabs that suffer from the one-sidedness of the story; it’s the Americans, for this movie re-enforces more than anything else the image that America’s foreign policy is a sham. People are going to complain less of the two-dimensional all-Arabs/Muslims-are villains portrayal than they are over how the Americans really are the present masters of propaganda. The “alright” Muslims are portrayed as night-club goers who will sell you any information for the right price as long as you don’t attack them as we see in one scene in Kuwait. The “good” Muslim in ZDT is an American official who works for the CIA (see?) who for some odd reason says his prayers in a Pakistani-like accent then switches to American when having a conversation. Never knew prayers had accents, especially Pakistani considering the prayers are usually said in Arabic (the conundrum).

Katheryn Bigelow’s last movie Hurt Locker, which I absolutely loved (and written by the same writer as for ZDT) was a success, because they couldn’t get U.S military support for it, hence it was free of mangling. ZDT had a clear CIA backing so unlike Hurt Locker, where the villain was (metaphorically) war itself as a drug, ZDT has an actual villain in the form of Osama Bin Laden, who’s practically a ghost in the entire movie till his death (oh wait, you didn’t know how the movie ended? Sorry!). Osama Bin Laden has been placed a degree below Hitler in the eyes of the world. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get humanized as Hitler does when it comes to cinematic portrayal. In fact Maya spends the second act trying to prove his existence when she discovers his compound. Unfortunately for her this task proves difficult like trying to prove air to kids or God to an atheist (the first one is much easier).

Another thing I took issues with was how Pakistan is portrayed less as a country and more as a minefield where everyday is dangerous. I’m sure Pakistan has gone through some rough days since 9/11, but living in a country with its own “Islamist” sect, I can tell you it’s not the whole country that’s constantly on fire. No good side of Pakistan was really shown, except the hotel (which gets blown) and the American embassy. The Kuwait scene (American allies that they are) however got a skyscraper and beautiful lights adorning the skyline.

The third act of the movie is an almost all out continuous action scene, as if to justify the first two dramatic acts; it works. It doesn’t however answer the questions we asked two years ago: 1.) If Osama Bin Laden was caught, why wasn’t he brought in alive to be tried as is preached by the world’s “free” justice system? 2.) If he was killed for understandable reasons (resisting, firing back), why no pictures? And 3.) Why was he buried as a Viking and later claimed to be buried under Islamic rights? (His burial isn’t shown in the movie, perhaps for obvious reasons).

At the end of it all ZDT comes off as an entertaining piece of fiction based on facts(?), but if you’ve lived outside America (be you American or not), this movie will test your patience! It’s an unfair portrayal of the world at large.

I will score it 4/5 for entertainment value though and for the fact that it actually got me to write this review. The accuracy (not so much the one-sidedness) of the story is its biggest minus.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

 

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