Sunday, March 31, 2013

Film Review: Zero Dark Thirty

This was one of those many films I wish I had gotten to see in the theater but didn't and was waiting expectantly for to come out on DVD.

Coming into the film I already knew the vast majority of the background behind the search for Bin Laden.  I'd read boatloads of stuff in the media over the years that had been leaked regarding this effort, I had read and reviewed here No Easy Day which recapped the life and efforts of Matt Bissonette who was in line behind the Seal who shot and killed Bin Laden and read the Vanity Fair article with the "shooter" himself.  I would consider the film a historically important work--but is it a good film?

I won't quibble with some of the film's technical inaccuracies pointed out by the "shooter" in his viewing of the film (too much talking by operatives during mission, Belgain Malinois vs. German Shephard, etc.) as they are merely conventions for the film's sake and yet not gross, purposeful, historical, inaccuracies.  In fact "the shooter" doesn't seem to have much in the way of issues with the way the Bin Laden killing was portrayed.

The biggest criticisms of the film came not from those who truly felt it was a inaccurate recall of these efforts but from those (John McCain being one) who felt that its portrayal of torture as conducted by members of the CIA (or those directly/indirectly employed by the US governmental forces) was misplaced in its ability to provide valuable information.  Mr. McCain is not able to be a impartial observer in this instance given his treatment at the hands of the Vietnamese and others leveling similar criticisms are grossly blinded by their political views.  What is inarguable is that torture can be a valuable method of obtaining information.  Is it perfect?  Certainly not, but when you are dealing with murderers and assassins who could kill thousands of your citizens, such ugly methods can and should be employed.  Such vaunted conservatives (please hear the sarcasm) as Alan Dershawitz understand this, particularly when viewing a situation via the prism of Israeli and US concerns with terrorism.

As to the film itself, I did not find the water-boarding scenes nearly as "horrific" as described in the main stream media...truly they weren't uncomfortable to view or wince inducing.  I'm sorry but some water over the head, some choking and gagging on wet clothes and moral embarrassment via being portrayed nude in front of a woman for the captured Al Queada operatives doesn't exactly come close to my personal squeamish meter.

Nor was the penultimate mission to kill Bin Laden as exciting and breathless in nature has been described in most reviews.  Yes, the portrayal is suspenseful but given you don't have any emotional connection to the characters, it just isn't that impactful.  Perhaps some of this is due to the fact that I pretty much knew everything that was going to happen and how it was going to happen from my previous readings.  Certainly reading No Easy Day gives you much more of a personal connection to Matt Bissonette than this film does for any of its characters.

Jessican Chastain portrays the main character in the film, Maya, who is the CIA analyst who, over the course of many years tied enough circumstantial evidence together to track down Bin Laden's location.  Again, cross referencing the info in No Easy Day to this portrayal leads one to believe that both sources accurately depict "Maya" as an intelligent, driven, ball busting, pain in the ass, disliked by her peers, analyst.  Chastain gets this point across despite her somewhat "too high for this role" pitch of her voice which had me wondering if they could have found an actress that sounds less like a whiny college co-ed for the part.

In the end my favorite parts of the film are those that remind the viewer that 9-11 was not a one off, singular event unlikely to recur but instead simply one in a series of attacks on Western citizens around the world over the period of decades.  It reminds one that it was an extended and brutal war we were/are fighting and one that is not covered by rules that in retrospect look as moronic and short sighted as the waves of WWI soldiers sent en mass, shoulder to shoulder into the uncaring maw of fixed machine gun positions.  Thank god for those men and women willing to do what it takes to protect the rest of us.  Hopefully this very good film gets that point across to at least some people out there...

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