Review: 'Zero Dark Thirty' from a civilian's view

Review: 'Zero Dark Thirty' from a civilian's view

(zerodarkthirty-movie.com, promotional materials)

By Demetri Ravanos 

Does a controversy keep you away from a good movie?

Maybe that isn't the question I should be asking. Let me rephrase it this way: Is a military movie — no matter how good or interesting — tougher to enjoy if you served?

It's something I thought a lot about mere moments after "Zero Dark Thirty" started. The movie opens with a pretty intense water boarding scene. It's tough to watch, but that's the way it should be, right? I mean it can't possibly be easy to be in the room for any method of enhanced interrogation, or torture depending on your viewpoint.

The cinema is what I know. I have a degree in film. I have been a movie critic for about five years now. I know nothing of military service though. Like I said, I have a degree in film. What am I going to do? Talk to the enemy about the finer points of the Star Wars Trilogy?

I thought "Zero Dark Thirty" was a truly terrific piece of filmmaking, but then again I have no reason not to. The script was intense to the point that I felt real pressure and fear despite knowing that the movie would end with the death of Osama Bin Laden. The acting was great too. I wouldn't be surprised if the movie wins Oscars for stars Jason Clarke and Jessica Chastain.

Those of you that served in any conflict certainly view war films differently than I do. I am impressed by the cinematography and sound editing that went into creating the iconic Normandy scene from Saving Private Ryan. I love the smart dialogue that keeps Three Kings humming along even in the slower parts. Those probably aren't what stand out to you about those movies if you are a veteran.

I would imagine the debate and controversy about what director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal were given access to makes some of you uneasy. After all, what 's different about classified information being divulged to those two and Matt Bissonnette's controversial book No Easy Day?

The ongoing debate about how accurate the movie is when it comes to the use of water boarding on detainees probably gives some veterans pause as well.

It's certainly something to think about as you are deciding whether or not to see "Zero Dark Thirty." Can you enjoy the film as a piece of art, or is it down right blasphemous to get anything about such an important and historic mission wrong? Is it even wrong to make a movie out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden?

My civilian opinion is that there's no harm done here. After all, most of the people saying that the movie gets the use of water boarding wrong are congressmen. No one that was a part of the man hunt has said they have an issue with the movie.

The members of Seal Team Six and the CIA are treated with respect and shown as heroes trying to accomplish a very tough mission. The filmmakers reserve any ire or scorn for Washington bureaucracy.

More importantly this isn't a political movie at all. You can leave any fears that this might be a victory lap for President Obama at the door. No one plays either president that was in office during this man hunt. In fact, the two men only appear on the screen in news reports.

When you have an actual life experience that you see being fictionalized on screen, it is hard to appreciate the film without any prejudice. I would encourage you though to block out all of the media hype and political rhetoric and go see "Zero Dark Thirty" then make up your own mind about what the film really is.

About the author
Demetri Ravanos has a BA in film from the University of Alabama,  is the host of "60 seconds of film," and is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association.