Wednesday, January 16, 2013

ZERO DARK THIRTY

First – if you are planning to see this film, see it in the theater and don’t wait for the DVD.  The raid will not be as riveting on a small screen.
I rarely give any film I see a “10”.  I rarely see a film that is so well done, so extraordinary that I cannot classifying it in any way except as one of the best.  This is a 10 plus.  The acting is universally superb.  The story riveting, compelling and, in the final 30 minutes, awesome in more ways than I can express.  If Bigelow’s depiction of the raid is only 80% accurate – and we are assured it’s more than that – then it shows with amazing detail just what terms like “surgical strike” and “precision strike” mean and I am talking about what those terms mean to the men who perform them.  They had a mission to kill Bin Laden.  They went in, cleared out the compound with precision and the actual killing of Bin Laden is so fast – they found him, they shot – that it takes a moment for the audience and some of the characters to realize that the mission was over.  Bigelow does not “dramatize” that moment, or any other.
And let there be no mistake about just who was behind the camera on this one.  Most time when I watch a film the directors “mark” or “stamp” or whatever isn’t obvious.  Bigelow has a very definite point of view – which I first noticed in HURT LOCKER – and it’s very evident in this film.
Jessica Chastain gives the best acting performance I have seen in years.  Very realistic.  Just watching her body language was impressive.  The character is totally believable.
The press and assorted critics have gone on quite a bit about the “torture” scenes.  Yes, they are a bit rough to watch.  But, never gratuitous.  And at no point are they as difficult to watch as the two sexual assault scenes in GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO.  Some critics are saying that they are out of context, that torture had nothing to do with finding Bin Laden, etc.  Well, they missed the point.  This film isn’t a comment on interrogation tactics and frankly we (the people) really do not know how often such methods were used and never will.  The film is about the painstaking, long, confrontational process the CIA (in this film the only intelligence network portrayed) went through to find any Al-Quida leader, Bin Laden in particular. 
This is a film about terror and there is a lot of terrorism in the film – a bus bombing in London, a hotel bombed in Pakistan – and others.  Again, never used in any way except to tell the story which shows the bit by bit, day by day, dead end by dead end process of gathering and interpreting intelligence information.  The “educated” opinions.  The arguments.  The back stabbing.  Just a hint of the truth probably, but enough to get the point across.  The raid almost didn’t happen for many reasons not the least of which was lack of communication within the agency. 
The raid is the last half hour of the film.  There is a brief section back at base after the raid when the body in the bag is identified to a general who is obviously on the phone with the White House.  Watch Chastain in that scene.
As for the raid, there are no accurate superlatives.  But one thing is made clear, something the news reports could not, and no book can possibly portray.  That raid was not quiet.  There was a helicopter crash.  Several doors were blown open with explosives.  Extended gun fire.  Women and children screaming.  For about one half hour Osama Bin Laden knew he was going to die. 
At the screening I attended, from the moment the choppers left the base to fly to Pakistan until the end there wasn’t a single sound in the theater.
One small caution.  The film begins in the dark with real 911 recordings from the Twin Towers on 9/11.  Garbled at first, overlapping voices, background noise.  Then one or two calls that can be clearly heard and understood. That is the hardest part of this film to experience.  Bigelow put the real horror right up front.

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