Zero Dark Thirty. I can’t think of many movies with such a steady build-up. Really well done. Setting aside any moral/political/veracity issues you may like to bring up, what I really loved was the simplicity of the plotline. Like Steven Shaviro wisely points out (must read, I say), it’s a procedural film. There are people who want to locate a man. It’s really difficult. They spend a decade working on it. Although we have a single protagonist, there’s no love interest. There are only hints at a personal life, mostly so the possibility can be downplayed. (I actually thought some of the weakest, most embarrassing moments were when Chastain was showed some ‘tude, like in the hallway confrontation and the writing on the office window. The script just wasn’t built for it.) There’s no sabotage, no competitors, just work. Oh, and chronic failure. And somehow it didn’t feel like 2.5 hours! All the plot resistance comes from the difficulty of the task itself and bosses who like good work, sure, but demand incredibly great work. In the end, after all the collaboration, the actual fulfillment of the mission is completely out of our heroine’s hands. She just watches and listens, like us. And what’s interesting from a filmmaking standpoint, is that climax is pretty dry, detailed, by-the-book. There’s no personal bloodlust, just well-rehearsed and well-executed teamwork. The movie progress from the horrific, emotional opening, through a couple hours of procedural drudgery, to an incredibly competent raid. By the time we get to the end of the movie (sort of like how we might have felt by the end of the manhunt in real life), the ending lacks much triumph or satisfaction. Everything zipped up. On to the next. Like the heroine, I just felt drained.
While we’re on the topic, I remember the song I was listening to when I heard that Bin Laden had been killed: Marvin Gaye’s If I Should Die Tonight. It was a strange night, wasn’t it?