Thursday, March 21, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Okay, here we go.  Most of the recent nominees for Best Picture at the Academy Awards are coming out on video and pay-per-view.  I'll be doing movie reviews for the next couple of weeks.

Last night I watched "Zero Dark Thirty" directed by Kathryn Bigelow of "The Hurt Locker" fame.

I have to admit I was a bit confused until I read the disclaimer at the end of the credits.  It is a "fictionalized" version of some actual events, with some created scenes, dialogue, and characters.

That makes sense.  I didn't think they'd be identifying actual Navy SEALS or CIA operatives.

But my point is, the film is so realistic, I wondered how much is fiction and how much isn't.  I can certainly see why some of our government folks were upset by this film and the free-handed use of torture.  It is frequent and graphic.  In fact a goodly portion of the film in the beginning is devoted to torture, either committing acts of it, or planning how to do it.

Jessica Chastain stars as Maya (nobody on the side of the US has a last name in the film.)  She tells someone she was recruited for the CIA straight from high school.  According to Maya, her entire twelve year career has been spent in pursuit of bin Laden.  (Osama or Usama, whichever you prefer.)

Maya is like a voice in the wilderness.  She knows her subject and is certain she can anticipate his moves.  The intelligence establishment as well as the military think they know America's number one public enemy better than she does.

Through driven determination and plain old stubbornness, Maya finally gets the bosses to accept her theory.  In that, the character of Maya reminds me of Carrie on Showtime's series "Homeland."  The two characters achieve their goals in different ways, but you know you'd better not cross either one.

Ms. Chastain does an admirable job as Maya.  She does not let up for a moment.  Also notable are Jennifer Ehle as an upper level CIA manager, and Kyle Chandler as a section chief.  James Gandolfini is almost unrecognizable as the White House liaison, who is very different from Tony Soprano.  A surprising cameo role is played by John Barrowman, aka Captain Jack of "Doctor Who" and "Torchwood" fame.  He's been showing up in several things lately.  He plays a sinister billionaire on C&W's series "Arrow."

The cast works well together in scenes of intensity and action.  Honestly I don't think Maya smiled more than twice in the film.  It is doubtful either smile reached her eyes...

After the film's climax, the killing of bin Laden, the tension melts away.  Maya is left shaken and teary-eyed after she officially identifies his body, while the returned Seal Team in the background looks over the electronic gear taken from his home.  The last scene has her boarding a military transport plane, clearly exhausted, and hollow-eyed.  You know Maya, the character, is suffering from spending all that energy for this outcome.  Somewhere deep inside, she has to be wondering what she's going to do now...

Zero Dark Thirty is a serious, dark film in which actual terrorist attacks are realistically depicted.  The film begins over a soundtrack of phone calls for help on 9/11, radio signals from or to the doomed planes.  I wondered if they were recreations until I heard the American Airlines staff lose contact with Betty Ong, a flight attendant on the American Airlines flight that slammed into the first tower.  I've heard that conversation and recognized the voices as those of the actual participants.

In other words, don't watch this film prepared to be "entertained."  It is a worthy depiction of dedicated men and women determined to succeed in the name of the victims of that dark time in our recent history.

Like many Americans that May 1st night, I was glad we got bin Laden.  I did not jubilantly celebrate like the young people I saw on the news.  I can understand Maya's reaction when it was all over.  Where indeed do we go from here?

This is a well-made film, one worthy of viewing.

I hope to post a review of "Les Miserables" in the next few days. 

Until then enjoy our rich pop culture in every way you choose.

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