Saw ZDT for a second time last night, and I don't like it. I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt on a first viewing because Bigelow is attempting something pretty terrific, but here's what it all comes down to:
1) I believe that so much was cut from this film that it's difficult to approach this film as any kind of success. ZDT was written and ready to go before Bin Laden was killed. That version of the script was going to be about how torture leads into a spiral of no answers. Then Bin Laden was killed, and Bigelow & Boal (who must be fucking by this point) were forced to change anywhere between none of it, some of it, or all of it, thus compressing the narrative to make time for the Bin Laden compound raid. They basically had to take the ENTIRE NARRATIVE (the hunt) and compress it into the second act. The problem is, it's not the second act. It's the whole fucking thing! The second act is they whole movie. And it zips along so quickly without emotional attachment that it doesn't feel like anything.
2) The movie doesn't know what to do with the BIn Laden compound raid. It's an awesome feat of filmmaking for sure, but ideologically this film is a mess. Much can be said about what it's trying to do, but one thing is clear: no Americans are really likable in this film, except for torturer Jason Clarke and Jennifer Ehle. The most striking line of dialogue is still "They'll kill you!" Again: this probably comes from how they film was "compressed" or "streamlined", but whatever nuance could be found in these character/cyphers/archetypes is lost and they're all...kinda...shitty Americans. The attempts to make Chris Pratt (Worst Supporting Actor of 2012) into a likable character is ruinous, and Seal Team looks somewhere between Call of Duty and inhuman alien invaders. This is interesting and it doesn't make me like the film less, but Zero Dark Thirty does not make you feel proud to be an American at all. I felt awful about ourselves as a country, and honestly I'm not even sure if Bigelow was trying for that! I think it's something that accidentally happened.
3) Jessica Chastain is not good. She's not good in a different way that Kate Winslet or Sandra Bullock were not good. You can mistake their performances for good. You cannot mistake Jessica Chastain's performance for effective, and her acclaim is one of the most mystifying things of this moviegoing year. Yes, she looks in moments of the film like she's giving a good performance, but it doesn't hang together to create a persona we can identify with or at least identify as a credible person. Her voice is pitched and soft, the film is not a character study but it acts like it is, and when it's wrapped around this performance...wow! Every moment she was on-screen I was pulled out of the film. It's not her fault. It's possible that she's either miscast or the editing kills what she's doing. Jessica Chastain is a good actor for sure, but comparisons as being the New Meryl Streep only draw attention to what used to be considered so off-putting and fraudulent about Meryl Streep back in the day. The Oscar will not go to Jessica Chastain. It will go to Jennifer Lawrence or Emmanuel Riva.
4) I'm a little surprised it even got nominated for Best Picture. This has a Dragon Tattoo coldness to it that makes me surprised Academy voters even went for it enough to get it past Moonrise Kingdom or The Master. I think it will end up winning for Best Film Editing and Best Sound Effects. I'm fine with the latter winning. I think the Film Editing is in the service of contractual/bring this movie in at "2 1/2 hours" demands and constitutes some of the worst editing of the year. Most Editing = Oscar.
5) I didn't see The Blind Side. Now everything is known.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver