So many things could have gone wrong with Kathryn Bigelow’s retelling of that May raid that ended with the death of Osama bin Laden. It could have been sickeningly indulgent or celebratory, it could have been unnecessarily action-packed or violent, it could have been manipulated to add more tense moments a la Homeland or 24. Instead, Zero Dark Thirty, through excellent cinematography and direction, shows us an ugly process that has finally come to an end. There is no big celebration after the final gunshot. If it is a victory, it is a Pyrrhic one. We are not cheered, but unsettled, as Maya (Jessica Chastain) cries in that final frame. There is no joy in her tears.
I love Laura Bogart’s review of the same film:
De Beauvoir cautioned her countrymen against believing that they could ever find succor in vengeance. The common refrain of the aggrieved, “they must pay,” betrays a desire for a “balancing of wrongs,” to see their aggressors suffer a comparable horror. This is a truth born out in Bigelow’s bravura staging of that May raid, especially the claustrophobic effect of shooting in night vision. The sickening intimacy of the sequences—tight huddles of men charging narrow stairways, narrow rooms—makes the whole endeavor seem small. There’s no grand, cathartic showdown, no real firefight. There is only a man poking his head out of a room before he’s shot between the eyes. There is nothing that could conjure back 3,000 lives and bring them, like Lazarus, out of the rubble.