Zero Dark Thirty: Ooh-Rah!

by Ethan Alter December 19, 2012 6:00 am
<i>Zero Dark Thirty</i>: Ooh-Rah!

It's hard not to watch Zero Dark Thirty without drawing comparisons to Homeland and not just because both Kathryn Bigelow's new movie and that hit Showtime drama both revolve around a doggedly determined, socially awkward female CIA agent (Jessica Chastain's Maya on the big screen and Claire Danes' Carrie on the small) dedicating herself to bringing down America's most wanted terrorist, no matter the personal and professional cost. Beyond that, both the film and the series are shot through with a profound ambivalence -- and even skepticism -- about the way the nation's chief counter-terrorism agency operates, not to mention the moral compromises individual agents make in service of what they perceive to be their duty. But at the end of the day (and as the Season 2 finale made abundantly clear), Homeland is first and foremost a skillfully written soap opera, which uses the War on Terror as a backdrop to the twisted love story at its center; the show's "realism" exists entirely within quotation marks. Zero Dark Thirty, on the other hand, aspires to near-complete authenticity; while the decade-long CIA manhunt for Osama bin Laden almost certainly didn't proceed in precisely the manner that Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal present here, it's the closest we're probably going to get without being granted clearance to review the Agency's classified files.

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