Thursday, February 28, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

photo: from the film's Wikipedia page

I'm posting this entry quite a bit after I'd seen the film because I wanted to post the entry for Silver Linings Playbook before Sunday's Academy Awards--as at least Jennifer Lawrence should win something from that very good film--and because I wanted to post an entry about the Awards show itself, leaving a few days in between each entry, to give my readers time to breathe between my entries.  And to not overdo it.  So, anyway, this post is probably happening about a week after I'd seen this film.

This film is not to be missed, and, as with The Hobbit, I'd heard some things about it that made me question whether I'd want to see a two-and-a-half hour film that ended up being disappointing.  But once again, I needn't have worried.  This was a great film and quite an experience in of itself.

That says a lot, because we all knew how this one would end up.  What we didn't know, though, is how it would get there, and for that, the experience of watching this is worth it.  The movie is essentially a director's showcase, although all of the actors deliver solid performances, especially Jessica Chastain--who is very suddenly everywhere, and in every type of movie imaginable--and Jennifer Uhle, whose character plays with your expectations for awhile until suddenly hers, and Chastain's, are good friends.

Jessica Chastain's character changes rather dramatically during the movie; the turning point is when she loses a friend quite close to her.  (This is a situation an astute viewer should see coming, though when it does, the scene still packs a solid punch.)  She's the quiet observer during the interrogation scenes (more on those later), but when she's spoken to by the prisoner, she delivers a solid, professional answer--though her character clearly feels for his plight.  (Viewers should keep in mind, as she did, that he is a professional killer and liar--and would do both again.)  This keeps her humane, yet growing in her job, and shows that she won't back down when others might.

She becomes more haggard, emotionally and psychologically, rather than physically; I didn't see it when another character comments about how she's looking like she's falling to pieces.  Frankly, Jessica Chastain never looks like she's falling to pieces.  If she lost an arm in a battle scene, she'd look beautiful doing it.   

(An aside here.  A friend disagreed with me about this, but it seemed unrealistic to me that not one single male commented to her character about how beautiful she is.  Now, I know that they were all professionals, and I know this is a no-nonsense movie directed by a very talented [and Oscar-winning] no-nonsense female director [Kathryn Bigelow], but it is not conceivable to me that not one single guy, in a male-dominated, stressful, testosterone-laden profession, would comment, lewdly or not, about how incredibly striking she is--especially given that Jessica Chastain is one of the most classically beautiful actresses to come along in quite some time, and also given that a large percentage of the shots of her in this movie are close-ups.  In short, her character did not hide her beauty [except to put on wigs to hide her red hair], and the camera constantly zoomed in to show it.  There, I said it.)

Anyway, though she gets emotionally and psychologically haggard, that seems more to do with the bureaucratic nightmare that is her job, rather than what she has to go through at her job.  This, despite the fact that she almost gets blown up in a restaurant (a very effectively shocking scene) and shot up in her car.  (Surprising that the shooters didn't wait just a few seconds longer for her there.)  But she does change, and not to the dismay, too much, of her (male) superiors.  They constantly comment on her intelligence, by the way (and she is very smart), but never once about...well, never mind.  Anyway, it gets to a point where she's writing in large red figures the number of days that have passed since she, in her opinion, positively proved where Usama bin Laden was (referred to as UBL frequently in the movie--not OBL, for those who called him Osama; keep that in mind when you hear the next Obama / Osama diatribe).  But finally she gets the deployment she's been asking for.

And what a sequence of montages that is, all of them sans Chastain's character, as the elite troops go in there, ostensibly to see what there is to see, as most of the people involved are not 100% sold on the fact that UBL was even there.  (The leader of this troop says he's still willing to go in only because of Chastain's character's bullheaded certainty.)  The scenes of how they (maybe?) did this are intense and gripping--again, despite the fact that you know how it's going to turn out.  This part of the movie alone is worth the price of admission, though it shouldn't be the only reason to see this film.

Now, back to the interrogation scenes.  One of the reasons I was hesitant to see this film is because I'd heard and read that it supposedly okayed the use of the torture that it depicts.  I don't necessarily agree with this.  Firstly, the characters clearly don't like what they're doing (the guy who's "good" at it is so disgusted by it that he leaves the area) and they know that Congressional leaders are talking about them doing it--and they know that they can't be the one caught with one of the instruments in hand.  This shows me that the movie-makers are showing that it was done, that the people didn't necessarily find joy in it (which would've been even more disturbing), and that...well, they got exactly the information they needed because of it.  If not seeing a character make a speech and take a moral stance against it means to you that the film-makers were condoning it, then you would think they were doing just that.  But, really, what they were doing is showing that it was done, and showing that nobody liked it, and showing that they knew they couldn't be caught doing it, and showing that it gave them the information that ultimately led them to bin Laden--all the while showing the reality of that whole situation.  If the movie-makers had taken a moral stance about it in this movie, that would've been completely out-of-line and unrealistic, considering what they were trying to do.  They were trying to show how one woman, and her colleagues, got the information that ultimately led them to bin Laden.  Period.  To see a film about the morality of that type of interrogation, you'll have to go elsewhere.  That particular criticism against this film is unfair and untrue.  They didn't sanitize and condone that type of interrogation.  They depicted it, and that's all.

The second reason I was hesitant to see this film is that James Gandolfini apologized for his portrayal of his character.  As I watched the film, I tried to figure out why, and by the end, I still hadn't figured it out.  I am still confused about this.  He's not in the film long enough to create a standing and unfading characterization, and his character doesn't say or do anything that would come close to needing an apology for.  He's not a weenie; he's not a blowhard; he's not too tough; he's not anything at all that would need an apology.  He questions whether Chastain's team ever agrees about anything, which is reasonable to do, because they don't agree about anything.  He questions whether anyone can concretely prove what they're asserting, which is appropriate, because they can't concretely prove what they're asserting--and they are not all, in fact, asserting the same thing, to the same degree.  He's a political businessman looking at the engineers of this thing, wondering if they're doing the right thing, wondering if he'll be doing the right thing--whether he agrees, as the CIA Director, to sell the plan to the President or not.  And he's clearly appreciating everybody while sort of shaking his head at them all at the same time--which, again, is completely appropriate for his character to do.  I don't know what Gandolfini was apologizing for, unless it was the hairjob, which was indeed terrible.  Other than that, I just don't know.

So that's it.  Sorry for the long review, but there was a lot to say because there was a lot to see.  And there's a whole lot to like, so go see this one.

P.S.--The Academy's snub of Bigelow for Best Director is much harder for me to digest than its snub of Ben Affleck, who also did a great directing job, but with immensely easier material to direct, for a movie that was much more of an actor's showcase, rather than a director's showcase, as Bigelow's film is.  This is one of the best-directed films I've seen in years (and I agree with a critic's announcement that it blows Argo out of the water, and I liked Argo), and is surely one of the best (if not the best) directed films of this year--in a year of many very well-directed films.  (I admittedly haven't seen Life of Pi yet, which is high on my list of things to do--but that film, from what I've read, is heavily CGI.)  This film was a better film, and a better-directed film, than Bigelow's own award-winning Hurt Locker, which I also liked a lot.  She has already won directing awards for this film from the New York's Film Critics Circle, as well as from similar circles from other cities.  (Affleck won the Director's Award.)  I'd have to say that she deserves the Oscar more than anyone nominated, which says a lot, since I love Spielberg's work, and he was brilliant enough to cast me in one of his films.  But this movie was better-directed, and much harder to direct, than Lincoln was.  I can only assume that her snub was due to the unwarranted political firestorm attached to this film.


  1. Well - thanks for the lengthy review. I do want to see this film (along with 44 others on my Netflix list). I've only heard good things about this movie, which lead me to believe it was hyped up. But I know YOU'd never do that, would ya?

    Personally, I find the UBL vs. OBL thing a little more disturbing than the fact that people were up in arms about the interrogation scene. It must be the same people who thought "Pearl Harbor" even vaguely depicted the actual attack. I'm not really an Aflack fan. Only when he works with Kevin Smith can I tolerate him.

    But I will make it a point to see "Zero Dark Thirty" - thanks for the review.

  2. You know me, Nami. I'd never say, or type, anything that I didn't believe. I wouldn't hype anything up unless I myself thought it was truly awesome.

    And, yeah, the morons who go from Osama to Obama are probably the same ones who would go from Adolf to Rudolph, so don't waste too much time or anger on them. And I can't stand Ben Affleck, either, even if he did make a very good film. Did you see his snarky remark to Seth McFarlane after his "Gigli to Argo" joke? Dude, have a sense of humor and take yourself less seriously, huh?

    Great to hear from you again!

  3. I see no reason why any of the men she worked with would have to comment on how beautiful she is. Rather than be unrealistic, I think it's just not necessary. She's a strong determined woman and she does mention not having much of a personal life, so it's clear she wants to be taken seriously by her colleagues. There's far too much doom and gloom to have a scene where another character comments on how hot she is. I'm not saying she isn't, but I find it to be irrelevant.

    I don't think Ben Affleck was all that snarky about the Gigli comment. He just retorted with a little zest. He more than made up for it during his very sincere and touching Oscar acceptance speech. I was quite moved. I've watched many of his interviews and I assure you he has a sense of humor. Perhaps he was still feeling his Best Director snub.

  4. I have to respectfully disagree with you there, Diane. Because she is a strong determined woman, because she doesn't have much of a personal life (while it's clear that the guys do), and because it's clear that she wants to be taken very seriously by her colleagues--all the more reason why someone, at some point, should at least mention her attractiveness. And not necessarily in a negative way. Like her female friend saying, "You're too pretty not to go out once in awhile." Or one of the guys saying how pretty she is. It is actually important for all of the reasons you mentioned: character development. The only reason to leave it out is because her one character was a composite character of many women, and so there was no one woman for any single character to make such a comment to. But still...