Now Playing Review

Zero Dark Thirty an American triumph of tenacity

lars logoYEP YEP – “Here’s to the big breaks – and the little people who make them happen.”

It’s a near throw away line in the middle of a “true story” that spans over a decade-long manhunt to bring down the mastermind of the 9-11 terrorist attack that claimed over 3,000 American lives.

But it’s the closest thing you can hang your hat on as a theme for Kathryn Bigelow‘s well-executed Zero Dark Thirty.

Bigelow’s previous film, Oscar winning The Hurt Locker, couldn’t avoid the usual trap of modern day war films. The “war is hell” statement that must be made. How our military turns men into murdering monsters who can never assimilate back into civilized society once the battle’s won.

Controversy surrounded Zero Dark Thirty’s release because of the sensitive (classified) nature of the details that went in to the complicated, and at times convoluted, tracking of Osama Bin Laden.

While the film claims to be based on factual events, the actual needling and copious cross referencing required to bring Bin Laden down become nothing more than exposition.

This is a film about one woman’s determination to see her task through to completion.

Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a fresh scrubbed CIA recruit assigned to aid Dan (Jason Clarke) in extracting information from a primary suspect immediately following the 2001 World Trade Center attack.

Zero Dark 30The first 30 minutes of the picture is dominated by the enhanced interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo. Yes, water boarding.

Does it work? Was any useful information gleaned from all of that…interrogating? Mark Boal’s script is too smart to spell out or imply anything resembling a direct “connect the dots” scenario.

Instead, what unfolds for Maya is a seemingly endless journey of false leads and dead ends. With the War on Terror slowing down for no one, the new mandate from her superiors at the CIA?  Identify targets and give them “someone to kill.” In other words, Bin Laden became yesterday’s news.

Not good enough for Maya. And her increasing frustration with her Agency’s lack of urgency – or results – is where Chastain gains real steam in her performance, and Bigelow shines in her ability to tell this tricky story without preaching – or piping in Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman.”

In fact, the musical score is just another element that this film gets right. I first recognized composer Alexander Desplat‘s brilliance in the French prison drama A ProphetHe has since delivered hypnotic scores for The King’s Speech, The Tree of Life, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. This guy is very very good.

So is Bigelow. She’s made a significant film out of a tragic series of events that have hung over our country for 11 years now. She gathered her material, found her heroine in Chastain, and crafted a picture that neither celebrates or condemns the actions took to bring closure to the manhunt that haunted one President and dared to hide in broad daylight before another.

Zero Dark Thirty wisely opens by reminding us of the horror of 9-11 through the heart breaking desperation of a 911 phone call from one of the victims. It’s not overdone.

Bigelow also nails the ending. It’s just perfect.

The re-creation of the heroic compound raid in Pakistan is impressive to say the least. Top notch filmmaking all the way around. Edge of your seat kind of stuff – even though we all know the outcome.

Must admit I was again irked (see my take on Lincoln) to see so many Brits and Aussies cast to play American agents and soldiers in what is so clearly an American story. But they are all fine actors, so…I guess I just don’t get it. Plenty of capable butt kicking locals available. Of that I’m certain.

Many things about our country have changed since 9-11. All sorts of new laws and regulations. A new vocabulary. New prejudices and phobias. New expectations for what we can achieve around the world.

But in many respects we are stronger than ever.

Here’s to defending our freedom, and the Americans who make it happen.

We got Bin Laden.

“Geronimo. For God and country.”

3 thoughts on “Zero Dark Thirty an American triumph of tenacity

  1. Would have traded a Aussie for you in the Film Laceman, not that there is anything wrong with Aussies…I hear its amazing and Letterman went on and on about with Chris Pratt on last nights show….All Good…

    • Pratt is consistently good, JG. Would love to discuss this film with you once you get around to seeing it. Nothing wrong with Aussies at all. If you have not seen Animal Kingdom, check it out. Loved it! But are they that much more macho than we Yanks? Me thinks not. I blame DiCaprio for making us all seem like a bunch of recycling, eco radical goober wimps.

  2. Pingback: Mark your Oscar ballots, here are the winners | Lars Beckerman

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