Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

by Paul on January 17, 2013

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“This film has been based on first-hand accounts of actual events.”

I loathe having to talk about politics during any film review. I don’t watch movies to get into political debates. When a film states that it is based on first hand-accounts I have to assume that I am being told the truth. Of course the key word in that quote is “BASED”. Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s latest film, “Zero Dark Thirty”, says it isZero Dark Thirty (2012) based on accounts; not that everything you are about to see is 100% accurate.  Obviously these filmmakers weren’t there personally, and in order to share this important story with others, they had to take what they were given and fill in the gaps to the best of their abilities, in order to make an entertaining film that is as accurate as possible.

In “Zero Dark Thirty”, Jessica Chastain plays a CIA agent named Maya, who in 2003, is sent to work in the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. Along with her colleague Dan (Jason Clarke), she is introduced to the highly disturbing world of interrogation and torture, in order to gain information to help with America’s war on terror and the search for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.  At first she is the typical “new member” of the group that does things differently than everyone else, but the deeper she becomes immersed into this highly secretive and controversial world, the stronger Zero Dark Thirty (2012)and more determined she becomes. Maya’s transformation into a much harder and more jaded person because of her experiences is disturbing to watch, even though she needs this toughness to achieve her ultimate goal.

After torture is no longer condoned, she continues her efforts through the use of surveillance, bribery, pure strength of mind and her ability to inspire those around her. Maya’s role in this high profile manhunt becomes more than an obsession as she becomes determined to find and kill bin Laden.

Kathryn Bigelow started preparing for this film long before the events that are depicted took place. Along with writer Mark Boal, Bigelow wrote the screenplay for a film surrounding the events of the Battle of Tora Bora in December of 2001. AfterZero Dark Thirty (2012) the screenplay was completed, but before shooting began, the U.S. manhunt for Osama bin Laden ended with his death. Bigelow and Boal instantly began work on a new screenplay that would cover all the events leading up to bin Laden’s death, using all the work they had already done as immense research. Mark Boal’s completed screenplay is amazingly smooth for a war film. It glides seamlessly throughout, moving at a slow methodical pace without losing any of the heart pounding suspense or excitement, despite the inevitable conclusion of the film.  Of course the extraordinary editing by Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers helped keep this perfectly flowing film moving along as well. With all of the controversy surrounding “Zero Dark Thirty”, the writers and editors still managed to receive Academy Award nominations, thus showing how well received their incredible work was on this film.

Also earning a nomination for this film was its star and its driving force, Jessica Chastain. In her relatively short career she has already managed to impress and electrify both audiences and critics with her innate ability to captivate the audience, while stealing the film from all the other actors. This was really her first opportunity to be the sole star of a film, Zero Dark Thirty (2012)and by choosing such an important and high profile one, she was forced to give the performance of her career; she didn’t disappoint. Chastain’s ability to go from the quiet, timid seeming young woman into a fierce and powerful operative in just a two and a half hour film is astounding. It was a much deserved nomination, and it’s my guess that when the awards are given out it will all come down to her and Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012). Due to the controversy and ongoing boycott of the film, Chastain is not going to receive as many votes as she deserves. (There’s nothing as frustrating as politics getting in the way of an artist’s work!)

Now because of all the criticism of “Zero Dark Thirty” and its harsh depiction of torture, as well as it importance in the finding of Osama bin Laden, I have only a few thoughts. Is it wrong to show scenes involving torture? I understand ifZero Dark Thirty (2012) some people are left feeling uneasy after watching these scenes, that’s kind of the point, right?  However we may feel about the use of torture morally, it is important to understand what these men were forced to endure, in order for us to appreciate the demeanor and mentality of the agents that performed these acts. When Maya’s friend and fellow interrogator, Dan (Jason Clarke), tells Maya that he is heading back to America because he’s seen too many men naked, he is making a very serious point about the mentality of the torturer. Without showing the horrific reality of what went on, those of us who are sitting comfortably in our homes would never have any comprehension of what all of these characters are experiencing.

Director Kathryn Bigelow has had to defend her film from those who accuse her film of promoting torture. Her now famous quote has been, “Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement.” Those words are as Kathryn Bigelowtruthful as they come. “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t condone torture more than a film like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011) condones rape. Nowhere in “Zero Dark Thirty” does anyone talk about how happy they are to be torturing people. They seem to hate it as well. It wasn’t something that they wanted to do; it was something they felt obligated to do. Why are people attacking the torture in this film in the first place? Not because it didn’t really happen, but because they maintain that the torture didn’t lead to bin Laden’s location. So really, they’re not as upset about the torture as they are in saying that the torture was successful. Would there be any controversy if the torture scenes were in the film, but no information was gained during those scenes?

Unfortunately, all of this garbage is interfering with the accolades that “Zero Dark Thirty” is receiving. Five nominations for a film of this magnitude seems more than a little misguided. (Even if one of them is for Best Picture. Obviously, havingZero Dark Thirty (2012) not yet seen all the other films eligible I can’t say for certain that “Zero Dark Thirty” was deserving of more nominations (like Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow), but it certainly seems to be the case. Audiences have already proven that they are interesting in judging for themselves, and hopefully when the Academy Awards arrive, voters will remember to vote for the most deserving nominees, and not the ones that fit their political objectives.

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