Zero Dark Thirty. Directed by: Katherine Bigelow. Written by: Mark Boal (who?). Starring: Jessica Chastain... and that's about it. Anybody recognize these guys: Joseph Bradley, Edgar Ramirez, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, Callan Mulvey? Anybody guess who these guys play: Tushar Mehra, Reda Kateb, Fares Fares?
Couple of principles worth mentioning up front in the face of critical mooing about this film: 1) It's a flockin' movie, not history nor historical record nor documentary despite the dubious attribution of its script to "journalist" Boal who, like all non-combatants, bought every ticket the real guys had to sell during his "research"; 2) The operative word is "move," and if it do not, it is not, endless shots of perplexed or tormented or reflective faces notwithstanding, Hollywood shorthand for inner life unfolding as we watch that bead of perspiration, that tremulous tear, that blood droplet droozle its way down the cheek of this troubled young woman or that refractory T(wo) Third(s) World gink or that croaked martyr.
Bigelow, who's done some good stuff (the first-rate--though challenged by professional EOD guys--Hurt Locker; the cultic Point Break with its surfer-koans and adrenaline-junkies; the techno-thriller K-19 featuring Harrison Ford doing a Rooshan accent by way of Boris and Natasha), apparently began to believe her own press (plausibly confirmed in this--I don't say no-- by her Oscar (Tm) for Best Picture and Best First Fee-male Directrix) about her own genius and figured she'd take on what Kurt Vonnegut called (when he was among us) in another connection the "national ball of string," the emotico-socio-politico-mili-psycho-macho foofarah surrounding Nine-Eleven and the Ten-Year Manhunt (all caps on account of, like, special) for its purported perfervid perpetrator, B'n L'd'n (no vowels in Arabic but you can buy one from Vanna, who will not likely be ministering to the martyred suiciders, and I think you know why...).
Anyhow. The public dimension of this thing has excited journalists ever since and treated us to endless avuncular disquisitions on "enhanced" interrogation techniques, incessant moralizing testimonials from first-handers and other know-it-alls about the efficacy or not of same, fathomless outrage from here and there (the idiot's dignity, according to Voltaire... or one of them); the film itself has even pried Senator Feinstein (from California, natch) loose from her militating over that habitat for eared seals to declare (not even opine) that the film misrepresents reality by its suggestion that torture works. That's a pretty heavy load for a fil-um to bear though we recall that Coppola declared (did not opine) that Apocalypse Now was not an approximation nor even an imitation of reality but the actual reality itself; that Oliver Stone of blessed memory did the same for Platoon; Spielberg the same for Private Ryan. And legion were the teary old vets who watched those flicks and swore it was "just like being there" or worser yet "was being there." Remember that first principle: It's a flockin' movie.
Goes like this. Young Agency sharkess, Maya (Jessica Chastain, as a fee-male analyst alleged to be a real person still "undercover" in the Company), registers first perplexity, then intensity as she enters the gruesome world of interrogation, the source of the intelligence she analyzes. She chums up with Kyle (Joseph Bradley) as together they brutalize a string of miscreant (Two) Third(s) World ginks collected by various sources (and means), dragged into filthy, solitary cells, and "enhanced" until they cough up that morsel of information which, set alongside other morsels likewise expectorated, ultimately provide a trail of breadcrumbs leading to Abbottabad where the loathsome "Pakis" in cynical symbiosis tolerate the retreat of B'n L'd'n allthewhile sustaining the illusion of alliance with the Gringos. The torture seems to wear upon the victims and upon the agents, in different form but in comparable dimension, become almost bureaucratic in its execution, mechanical in its procedure, predictable in its eventual and inevitable reduction of recalcitrant subjects to docile collaborators.
Needless to say, cementheads in the Agency and the Department disregard the evidence even as it mounts, demanding 100% percent certainty as the sole justification for action despite assurances from operatives that such certainty never emerges from data collection. It takes a face-to-face between a potty-mouthed Leon Panetta (played for yucks by a bulked-up James Gandolfini) and the equally dirty-talking Maya (primed, doubtless, by her immersion in the world of action guys who all talk like that, as we know) to precipitate movement (If it's a movie, got to move: that second principle): "I'm the mother-f#*$*%cker who found the place," she declares as her bona fides. We brush aside (or transfer to the Agency office in Dee-Moines) the non-believers, finally coax B'r'k 'B'm' into authorizing a raid, and--finally--we can turn the flick over to the SEALs.
These poor guys live in a world of darkness and anonymity, Lord love them. Played here by essential nobodies, their faces swaddled in bushy beards, eyes hidden behind the night-vision goggles that grant them mastery of the shadows where specters like B'n L'd'n live, girdled in vests and trauma plats and hung with radios and magazine pouches and all the hermetic fatras of the modern warrior, shod and gauntleted and virtually indistinguishable the one from his brother, they fastrope, dechopper, tumble into the stuccoed compound, tippy-toe through the penumbra, shoot everything and everybody in a welter of national rectitude and just vengeance, pumping a coupla extra rounds into the fallen just so there's only one story in court afterward. Curiously, such action as we've had so far actually seems to slow down now as we go to green and the seconds elapse after entry into the compound. Blow that door. Where is the guy? Who's that? Aw, hell, shoot 'im anyhow. Or her. We never see B'n L'd'n's face, only a pair of nostrils peeping out from the body bag, to whose contents a vindicated Maya directs a weary nod: Yeah, it's him.
Well, hell. If it didn't happen that way (Sooner or later Feinstein's almost bound to get something right; could be this...), shoulda. Movie about analysis. Images for ideas. That's called poetry and not sure the public is ready for that, nor prepared to process it, nor willilng to fork over ten bucks for it. They tell me, for instance, that Hurt Locker didn't make money. When we get at length action here, it's almost peripheral; it's blank (unknown actors, unseen faces) and moves with clipped paces through inky night across empty courtyards through unlit corridors toward fleeting figures, glimpsed only a second. Not a film I'd watch twice though I suppose we all have to watch it once. Another scrap of twine for that national ball of string. Alan Farrell