Friday, January 11, 2013

The Hunt For Osama Bin Laden Is Intensely Told In ZERO DARK THIRTY

Opening today in the Triangle area:

ZERO DARK THIRTY (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)

The buzz surrounding Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to her Oscar-winning THE HURT LOCKER is mixed with criticism of its supposed pro torture stance, but these protests (mainly from folks who haven’t seen it) are really small minded when considering the big complex picture of ZERO DARK THIRTY.

I never felt like Bigelow’s film, written by THE HURT LOCKER’s Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal, was celebrating torture; I felt like the film was a challenging depiction of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden that had to go to some very dark places to tell its story.

But let’s start at the beginning.

After a dark screen accompanies a collage of sound bites related to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the film proper opens two years after 2001 at a C.I.A. “black site” with a few torture scenes that will make you as uncomfortable as Jessica Chastain is as an intelligence operative watching as a fellow officer (Jason Clarke) roughly interrogates an al Qaeda detainee (Reda Kateb).

This can be hard to watch, excruciating even, especially when Clarke, who repeatedly says “If you lie to me, I hurt you,” brings on the water boarding.

This intense torture results in one of the first clues in tracking down Bin Laden: the alias of the terrorist mastermind’s personal courier. Despite this lead, years pass (the film is inconsistent in telling us what year it is - after 2008, it seems, they assume we can figure it out), and Chastain comes up against resistance from her superiors (mainly Kyle Chandler as CIA Islamabad Station Chief), who want her to concentrate more on Homeland Security.

Speaking of Homeland, there are stretches of this movie that recall the Showtime series. Like Claire Danes’ character on that show, Chastain has no life except her job (or obsession) of hunting down terrorists. The characters are different, as here we get no background of mental instability, and Chastain would never sleep with the enemy.

As in THE HURT LOCKER, every explosion has a strong emotional impact. Particularly the 2008 Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing which violently interrupts a meal Chastain is having with the closest she has to an actual friend in the movie - N.C. native Jennifer Ehle as a fellow analyst.

I don’t recall ex-president George W. Bush’s name being spoken in the film, and the shift of administrations is only reflected on a background T.V. broadcasting an interview by 60 Minutes’ journalist Steve Croft with Barack Obama, in which the president states “The United States does not torture.” So there’s no White House situation room point of view here.

Chastain and company’s initial lead finally pays off, when they follow Bin Laden’s suspected courier (Tushaar Mehra) to a large compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bin Laden can’t be proven to be hiding at the compound, so nothing can be done immediately. 

After more surveillance, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (James Gandofini) asks Chastain and co. how certain they are of Bin Laden’s presence at the location, the others say around 70%, but Chastain replies: “100 percent, he's there. OK, 95 because I know certainty freaks you guys out. But it's 100.”

Unless you really aren’t informed of world events the last few years, it’s obvious that the movie’s climax will be the raid by Navy SEALs on the compound. One of the SEALs, Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt is skeptical of the mission, but the Squadron leader (Joel Edgerton) has more faith in Chastain’s confidence.

The raid, largely seen through the glowing green of the Seals’ night-vision goggles, ups the thriller quotient of the film, even when you know the intricate details of how it all ends.

The long, but not too long, ZERO DARK THIRTY was just nominated for 5 Oscars including Best Picture, but since Bigelow wasn’t nominated for Best Director it’s very doubtful that it will take home the big prize (I could see Chastain possibly winning though). That doesn’t take anything away from this film’s immersive plotting, excellent performances, and intense power. So don’t let the politics of the torture argument talk you out of seeing one of the year’s best films.

More later...


Race 2 said...

ZERO DARK THIRTY , looking awesome movie. but Director has to take care of not to hurt sentiment of other any people. I think that ZERO DARK THIRTY has to face some issue in country like pakistan

Ravi said...

Torture is not a part of the main plot, so why to show it. I don't mind it showing in the cinema, but for this film it was not necessary. Otherwise, the film was ok. We all know what will happen in the climax, but want to know how it is done. So the suspense was "how it is done", for that matter they did a decent filming of the ops. Comparing this Argo, I felt Argo was better picturized.

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