Chest-Thumping Cinema: Zero Dark Thirty

I don’t usually have problems with Hollywood coming out with ‘Chest-Thumping’ movies now and then, but sometimes they should really think harder over what they end up putting out. Back in the day we had movies such as Independence Day, Top Gun, and Black Hawk Down that did their best to instil a sense of national pride amongst American audiences. More recently this sub-genre has evolved and we have seen parodies of these beloved movies with fare such as the infamous Team America: World Police, we have also seen directors take more serious angles like what was seen with The Hurt Locker.
Hollywood is certainly not alone in the ‘Chest-Thumping’ department as British filmmakers in particular have dabbled in the art of patriotic movies, we’ve just gone about it differently with movies such as the historical drama The King’s Speech and the dark-humor terrorist parody Four Lions.
One could reasonably argue that the entire James Bond franchise, even the more recent installments, has been a huge British patriotic stunt from the days of Dr. No.

Now we have Zero Dark Thirty on the horizon, a movie that chronicles the manhunt of Osama Bin Laden right up to the SEAL operation in Pakistan that resulted in his death. Given all of the drama and controversy caused by this historic event it was only a matter of time until Hollywood decided to make a movie about it, I think they should have waited a few more years before releasing it though.
I hope I am not being too controversial myself but I think celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden, who was by all accounts a reviled figure, with a full-length Hollywood movie feels wrong. Celebrating an historic event like this would not draw as much scrutiny from me if the wars surrounding the terrorist mastermind of 9/11 were not still raging in the middle east. See what I’m getting at here? To me it feels awkward to be celebrating what was by all means a bold and daring military operation to bring the greatest manhunt in history to an end when the repercussions of Al Qaeda’s operations are still being seen on a near-daily basis.

If the premise of the Zero Dark Thirty wasn’t controversial enough the political debate surrounding it has already started and has picked up impetus since the release of this trailer. Republicans are understandably cynical about the release date of the movie being close to the 2012 election that sees their own candidate Mitt Romney go head-to-head with Democrat President Barack Obama. Whilst I applaud President Obama (Who is to be portrayed in the movie) for making such a decisive and potentially costly decision in launching an ambitious raid in to kill Osama Bin Laden, I can see why Republicans might be sceptical of the movie’s release date being so close to a crucial election. At this stage polls indicate that it will be an extremely close contest so releasing a movie that documents one of President Obama’s greatest achievements at this stage is indeed highly suspect.
The release of this trailer has attracted interest from right-wing media outlets worldwide, interest and the ferocity of the debate will only increase as the 2012 election draws ever-nearer.

In many ways this controversy takes me back to 2004 when Downfall was released. Downfall is a historical drama that, like Zero Dark Thirty, chronicled the final days of another reviled figure: Adolf Hitler. I feel there is a big difference between the two though: Downfall was released in 2004, 59 years after the fall of Nazi Germany. Zero Dark Thirty however is being released a mere year after-the-fact. As I’ve already mentioned, I think that the release of this movie was inevitable but I honestly think that Hollywood should have waited a few more years before even considering releasing it.
Is this another evolutionary stage of ‘Chest-Thumping’ cinema?
Or has this unique genre regressed back towards becoming blatant political propaganda?

2 comments

  1. Your concerns about the political climate are accurate, however I’m not certain we should ascribe any more importance to the media atmosphere of divisive partisan talking heads than they already promote about themselves. There is actually nothing new in timing a film close to an actual military event, especially if we look back to the World War II era. It’s only since Vietnam
    where the entire industry was paralyzed by fear in dealing with any current political hot button
    issue that the illusion was created that film response to real life was filtered by a time lapse. It is
    only through the now overabundant saturation of immediate information that makes any film about current military conflicts commercially problematic.

    1. Good reply!
      You clearly know your stuff so I’d like to ask you something,
      You mentioned that the “industry was paralyzed by fear” during the Vietnam War, which is a good observation. However, “Apocalypse Now” (1979) was released in the aftermath of the War so I’d like to ask you what you think gave Hollywood the all-clear to make a statement about “political hot buttons”.

      It seems to me that the War simply ending wasn’t enough, do you think something else was involved?

      I was also considering including in my post a comparison between Danny Boyle’s “Four Lions” and Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” for their similarities in taking comical but serious angles to a hot-topic.

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