Friday, January 11, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty Review

There's a controversy surrounding the director Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. The U.S. Senate is going to investigate whether the CIA gave inappropriate information to Bigelow and screenplay writer Mark Boal. There's another controversy. The movie makes the point that torture of detainees was a large key to tracking down terrorist Osama bin Laden. This is disputed by Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.) and Carl Levin. (D-Mich.) Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) also argues that torture doesn't work. McCain himself was tortured as a prisoner of war in Viet Nam. The question becomes how accurate is Zero Dark Thirty? Because if it's accurate, then a Senate investigation is relevant.

Zero Dark Thirty is about the nine year hunt for one of America's greatest enemies, terrorist Osama bin Laden. It starts out with 9/11 phone calls from doomed victims of the Twin Towers. The film then moves two years later at a CIA black site. It takes the point of view of CIA agent and analyst Maya. (Jessica Chastain) At this site, a prisoner is being tortured by CIA agent Dan. (Jason Clarke) The methods include strip searching, humiliation and waterboarding. Maya might seem at times disturbed but she soon becomes an advocate of torture. About the first third of the movie is about the results gained by torture. You see this is not a movie about secret agents going undercover. Maya must use information gleaned from terrorist detainees to find bin Laden.

Jessica Chastain has played a spy before. See The Debt. (2010) She's dogged and obsessed in Zero Dark Thirty. But she can be a blank page. Jason Clarke plays his agent as man who would be satisfied with accurate information but can in an instant dish out punishment. I saw Mark Strong last in John Carter and this time he's unlike anything in that movie. He's very good as a CIA agent who must deal with the executive branch and an obsessed Maya. The excellent Jennifer Ehle (Contagion) plays Jessica, a fellow agent of Maya. She's the one who is the most fleshed out. She's old school but doesn't let her veteran views stifle Maya's analytical talents.

Mark Boal's screenplay is lean and there's not much to flesh out Maya. At times I felt her dialogue was cliched. That being he said his screenplay gives Director Bigelow a canvass to make a riveting thriller. The movie is punctuated at times by various real life terrorist attacks. It's Kathryn Bigelow's direction that makes these scenes exciting since we already know what happens. During one scene, I knew that a horrible event was going to happen. But Bigelow with the help of Boal builds the tension. It's the depiction that held me. But where the film takes off when Maya and Jessica are nearly killed be a car bomb. Bigelow shows the confusion and screams of pain from victims.

As for the bin Laden raid, we know the conclusion. But the great thing about Bigelow's directions is that she makes us feel like we don't know what will happen. As she shoots Seal Team Six's helicopters flying around the hills of Pakistan and we hear the muffled beats of the choppers, you'll be grabbing your armrests. The raid itself has the visual style of "you are there" vibe. It's absolutely thrilling.

As for the question that was posed about accuracy, I don't have the classified reports of the bin Laden raid. We do know that Maya is based on a real character. But what I can say is that Zero Dark Thirty does not feel like a Hollywood movie. During the screening, a guy behind me said the ending stunk. I thought the movie's documentary style made it a riveting film. As for the torture element, I can just say that I hope this portion is not accurate.

Zero Dark Thirty is a thrilling drama. The way it makes you feel as if you are present makes this film enthralling. The grade is A.

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