Zero Dark Thirty: A Very Short Review

By Brenda Clough

This is a fascinating and intense movie that pulls off an interesting trick.  You know how it ends — we all do, except for those of you who only just now got out of your Tibetan monastery And yet there is suspense.  It does not feel too long.  How is that done?

zeroWith detail — in this case, lots of the mundane grunt work of espionage.  It’s details that make a fiction come to life, on the page or on the screen.  The depressing, dangerous and claustrophobic work of a CIA officer comes across as clearly as life in Hobbiton.  With the details to bolster the step-by-step hunt for Osama bin Laden, we get completely invested in Maya and her quest, both its triumphs and its costs.

This movie has drawn considerable commentary about its handling of torture. In retrospect I can rationalize by noting that it is historically accurate; it did occur and so it is not inaccurate for it ti appear on the screen.  Furthermore, in the film, duress gets the investigators nowhere.  It’s legwork, cunning, and the usual espionage tricks (a new Lamborghini, really?) that eventually win the day.

While I was watching the movie, however, I had no qualms.  The ethos of the film carried me right along, aided by my own history, and made the rough stuff perfectly fine. On May 3, 2011 — the day after this movie ends — I posted on Facebook: So perish all the enemies of the United States of America.  I’m still good with that. Threaten my children, and I will watch your misery even in fiction with icy calm.

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.

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Zero Dark Thirty: A Very Short Review — 2 Comments

  1. On the topic of suspense, Apollo 13 has always been my touchstone example for that. I know how the story ends — it’s history; I would know how it ends even if I only watched it once, and I’ve watched it at least a dozen times — and yet I’m always on the edge of my seat. Why? Because the movie succeeds in making me empathize with the characters, who do not know how the story will end.

    Like you say, “we get completely invested in Maya and her quest.” And along the way, the details that create that investment also create mini-mysteries: I know what happens to the Apollo 13 astronauts, but not how they’ll solve the problem of the air filter. I know what happened to Osama bin Laden, but not the challenges that sprang up along the way. It’s an odd comparison, but I think it’s a bit like reading a romance novel — a genre where the reader usually knows who will end up happy-ever-after at the end, but is reading to find out how.

  2. The other fascinating thing about the movie is that it has no opinion about the events. It’s not simplistic, no “Frodo good, Orcs bad” logic too it.