Sunday, January 13, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty Bigelow's best?

Zero Dark Thirty is a thriller all right. But whether it beats the searing intensity of director Kathryn Bigelow’s 2008 The Hurt Locker is another matter. This film about a CIA agent (Jessica Chastain as Maya) almost single-minded hunt for Osama bin Laden has enough suspense over its more than two and a half hours to keep us interested – particularly the last 45 minutes or so during the preparations and Navy Seal assault on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. That military assault is most like the authentic war scenes of The Hurt Locker – a highly realistic film about the Iraq War – and shows Bigelow’s genius for capturing the reality of contemporary warfare. Most of the film leading up to the assault on bin Laden consists of two aspects: a character-driven story about Maya’s – recruited 12 years ago straight out of high school – quest, mainly as an operative at CIA Islamabad station. Her kick ass no nonsense cut-through-the red-tape persona drives the film. The other aspect is the torture scenes – waterboarding – of terrorist detainees. The film depicts controversial waterboarding unapologetically. Or should that be simply realistically, and makes no comment on the moral nature of the technique, which has been credited and discredited (depending what U.S. official you ask) in being effective in capturing various terrorist suspects, high value intelligence, and Osama bin Laden himself. It seems unfair for critics to dump on Bigelow for depicting such scenes. Is this any different from Quentin Tarantino’s having his characters say the N-word dozens of times or showing how slaves were despicably treated? Don’t think so. But waterboarding has a super charged element in the wake of the War on Terrorism so sensitivities are a bit raw. Nevertheless, the torture scenes in this movie are too often and too long, and don’t add – cinematically anyway – a whole lot to driving the plot. Will Zero Dark Thirty capture best picture at this year’s Academy Awards? Hmmm. May be a tad too controversial, especially when you have such iconoclastic hagiography as Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln in competition. Ditto for Best Original Screenplay. And, besides, the The Hurt Locker won Best Picture in 2009. But Best Actress (Chastain), Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Editing – three out of five ain’t bad.

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