In Defense Of Zero Dark Thirty

Jan 7 2013 @ 11:29am

I was a little stunned to find myself defending it after one viewing. I was all ready to start a picket line. But the most pointed and polemical defense of the movie I have yet read is here. It’s from film critic Glenn Kenny. It’s somewhat aggressive to Glenn Greenwald – but Glenn’s a big boy. Read the whole thing, but I like the Ramones analogy:

In 1976 Robert Christgau wrote this about the first Ramones record: “I love this record–love it–even though I know these boys flirt with images of brutality (Nazi especially) in much the same way ‘Midnight Rambler’ flirts with rape. You couldn’t say they condone any nasties, natch–they merely suggest that the power of their music has some fairly ominous sources and tap those sources even as they offer the suggestion. This makes me uneasy. But my theory has always been that good rock and roll should damn well make you uneasy.” I agree with Bob in all these particulars, and even more so if you substitute “good art” for “good rock and roll.” Zero Dark Thirty made me uneasy.

Greenwald’s evocations of amorality are not entirely inapt. There’s a sense in which the film at least skirts outright amorality by refusing to assign any definite values to the various Xes and Ys in the equation that makes up its narrative. Its perspective, from where I sit, is sometimes flat to the point of affectlessness. There is an almost cynical mordancy in its depiction of events, and this to me is entirely clear from the film’s visual grammar … But Greenwald sees none of this, and insists: “There is zero doubt, as so many reviewers have said, that the standard viewer will get the message loud and clear: that we found and killed bin Laden because we tortured The Terrorists.”

I guess I have more faith in the “standard viewer”. Kenny has a useful bunch of links, expanding on critical defense of the film. If you’re interested, many of them are very much worth exploring:

My review for MSN Movies, which I filed before even Frank Bruni’s column appeared, is now up. I stand by it. Manohla Dargis makes some salient points beautifully, as she always does, in her NYT review. The great Larry Gross has some provocative perceptions at Film Comment’s site. And Devin Faraci shows me more grace and kindness than I’ve ever shown him in commending my work in a piece about the film for Badass Digest, and I am grateful for his giving me a necessary lesson in humility, but more important, I think his perceptions on the film and his detailed descriptions combine for a wholly admirable piece of criticism. I thank him. Scott Tobias’ AV Club review is valuable. Also, I am reminded that David Poland, commendably, got the ball rolling from our end with this piece.

UPDATE 2: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s piece at MUBI’s Notebook is remarkable.

You can read through all our coverage of the debate over Zero Dark Thirty here.