There was a disturbing movie trend in 2012, at least for me, where the critics and (sometimes) audiences would rave about a movie and proclaim it to be an Oscar frontrunner and then I would go to see the movie and be grossly underwhelmed. That was the case for Argo and Silver Linings Playbook and Beasts of the Southern Wild, in this case, Zero Dark Thirty.
Don't get me wrong, these all were fine films, but only fine. When a movie gets raves from all over, I expect to walk out feeling something, at least. I want to have the experience where I leave the theater and can't talk for thirty minutes because I was so moved (like when I saw Big Fish, Children of Men, and Hotel Rwanda). Or I want to be so excited about the film that all I can do is ramble on about it during the car ride home.
Actually, that happened after I saw Zero Dark Thirty, only I was rambling on about all the things that were wrong with the movie.
Let's talk about the positive first. The latter half of the movie, the part after the CIA finds Osama Bin Ladin's courier and follows him back to the fortress in Abadabad, that stuff is good. The raid on the compound is compelling. It's dark and intense and, sometimes, even funny, but that's what happens when you have the fabulous Chris Pratt playing a SEAL. I wish more of the movie had been focused on planning the raid and spending more time with the SEALs. But that wasn't the story Zero Dark Thirty wanted to tell.
This was the story of Jessica Chastain's character Maya, and that was a big part of the problem. Neither Chastain nor her character was up to the task of carrying the film. Maya is given no characterization beyond "I was recruited by the CIA out of high school," "I'm not the girl who fucks," and "A lot of my friends were killed by UBL." Sometimes this can be enough, if the actor playing the role brings something more to the table, and Jessica Chastain doesn't.
It's hard not to compare this role to the role Claire Danes plays on Homeland. Carrie Mathison is a hot mess, who is very bright and who can do her job. She's believable in the role whether she's making a suspected terrorist cry (sometimes simultaneously with her) during an interrogation or crying over Nick Brody (Claire Danes is an expert crier). I give Danes a lot of the credit. Chastain doesn't have the same presence. She gets two great lines in the movie, but they feel as if they're delivered by another character, not the Maya we've seen to this point.
The entire end of movie hinges on how we feel about Maya and her plight, and since I didn't have any feelings about Maya, the ending left me cold.