Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

The relentless hunt for bin Laden thrillingly defines 
a decade of American foreign policy

Dex Hangs Out with Jessica Chastain
     Kathryn Bigelow directs action sequences that are up there with the best of Ford, Kurosawa, Clouzot, Aldrich, Siegel, and Eastwood.  I laughed with astonishment during Point Break when she staged two chases:  one where the villains were masked and ran through back alleys and around various obstacles, and a second when the protagonist, without a parachute, flew falling after the antagonist, who had one.  However, she also made Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves seem credible as actors; few other directors have done so and that’s telling.  Good and great actors are easier to manage than those that
are limited.

Inside the bin Laden Complex
     Suspense has been an element of Bigelow’s movies, but the bomb experts made it the central focus of The Hurt Locker.  It bubbles throughout Zero Dark Thirty until dominating the final quarter when the raid that killed Osama bin Laden is staged.  It is an understated movie that seems like cinema verité, but it’s highly designed; there isn’t a scene or shot that can be cut even though it’s over two and a half hours.  Its antecedent is Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers in its objective tone, documentary style, and the subjects of insurrection, terrorism, and torture.  The cast is filled with well-known faces from TV (HBO, BBC, NBC, etc.) such as Harold Perrineau, John Barrowman, and Chris Pratt.  Jennifer Ehle is 
Jennifer Ehle
heartrending as a senior intelligence officer, juggling a complex life in a few scenes.  I think she should have been up for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.  Kyle Chandler and James Gandolfini play actual named figures and do so without any fuss.  Gandolfini’s Leon Panetta seems like a benign bear, but also looks as if he could devour Jessica Chastain’s mongoose Maya.  Chastain’s performance is pared to the essentials:  despair, rage, and courage.  

     One major controversy has concerned the torture scenes.  How could they not be shown and tell this story?  Don’t we all know that this happened?  They’re presented in a matter of fact manner with the characters acknowledging that they need to pull back once the presidential administration changes.  Avoiding the torture scenes would be a white wash sop to the Left.  There are those who wish this hadn’t been told at all as if we could quickly put this behind us as a nation and move on discreetly.  That has been the attitude of the Right since the very beginning and it’s just as dangerous because it refuses to acknowledge the extraordinary cost of this war – human, financial, philosophical – and its gravity.  For most of us, it’s much easier to cheer on superheroes in summer blockbusters than to admit connections with real humans utilizing internationally illegal means to elicit information from suspects to stop further attacks on western soil or an escalation of war.

Identifying bin Laden
     The final conundrum is how Bigelow and Affleck (for Argo) could have been left off the Oscar nominations.  I have nothing against the other nominees, but couldn’t they have had seven slots this year since the movies in 2012 haven’t been this good a crop since around 2001 or 1999?  Whatever the answer, the two most exciting and politically engaged movies of the year move into a final showdown.  

No comments: