Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Zero Dark Thirty

Title: Zero Dark Thirty

Is It A Lock For Best Picture? Not even close. Early momentum has been derailed by political uproar, and the fact director Kathryn Bigelow wasn't nominated probably sinks its chances. 

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four-and-a-half horseshoes out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: The Central Intelligence Agency pulls out all the stops, legal or otherwise, to track down Osama Bin Laden.

Tagline: "The greatest manhunt in history."

Better Tagline: "We always get our man, eventually."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Finding the man behind the 9-11 attacks took the better part of a decade, cost billions of dollars, and involved hundreds of U.S. and allied personnel. This is the story of "Maya" (Jessica Chastain), a CIA agent whose dogged pursuit of certain leads was instrumental in ascertaining Osama bin Laden's hiding place, leading to a covert raid by Navy SEALs on his compound in Afghanistan.

Man, that sounds like a cool movie.

"Critical" Analysis: people bother making films about recent historical events anymore? Fine, audiences enjoy that feeling of, "I remember when that happened!" But even a film that veers way off into Speculation Land like Zero Dark Thirty will find itself assailed from critics of every political stripe. "It glorifies torture." "It beatifies Obama." "We didn't torture. At least, you can't prove it." "Filmmakers were given inappropriate access to government sources, which resulted in a positive portrayal of the current Administration."

That last one is especially funny when you recall that turd extraodinnaire from last year — Battleship — was made with the enthusiastic support of the Navy and the DoD. Damned liberal Hollywood.

Contrast this to the similarly lauded Lincoln, for while there are certainly contrasting views on the events leading up to the passage of the 13th Amendment, nobody's really arguing about the particulars. It doesn't hurt that anyone with first-hand knowledge died more than 75 years ago, I guess.

Zero Dark Thirty opens with a black screen as recordings of 911 calls made from the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks play (just in case you kids with your Pokemons forgot why we were after bin Laden in the first place). Two years later, CIA prisons are stocked with "detainees" captured in Afghanistan. One of these, following the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (though not as a direct result, mind you), gives up the name of what might be one of Osama bin Laden's personal couriers. The game is now afoot, as A. Conan O'Brien might have said, and Maya embarks on a nine year hunt for the most wanted man in the world.

This is not the action-fest many of the movie's trailers have made it out to be (the climactic raid on bin Laden's Abbottobad compound doesn't come until almost two hours in). Like the similarly lauded Lincoln, much of the film's running time revolves around tense discussion and verbal pyrotechnics. Unlike the former, Bigelow and Boal pepper their clandestine procedural with scenes of violence, like the Khobar attack and the 2008 bombing of the Islamabad Marriott, where Maya and a fellow agent were having drinks.

Maybe Spielberg should've thrown in some Confederate snipers or something.

As you may have read, some right-wing critics have assailed Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal for appearing to laud President Obama's decision to halt the use of CIA-operated "black sites" and "enhanced interrogation" techniques while simultaneously denying the use of these same techniques led to a key break in the hunt for bin Laden.

However, if anything, this political sea change — one anticipated by Maya's mentor, senior interrogator Dan (Jason Clarke), among others — prompted by Obama's election appears to render the CIA's efforts even less efficient than waterboarding. Is Bigelow saying it's preferable to spend countless man hours and billions of dollars tracking a single courier than to grab a few guys of the street and hang them by their thumbs?

Bigelow's agenda is her own, but in stating, "Depiction is not endorsement" it's obvious no simplistic interpretation of the movie is accurate. It would appear she's saying there wasn't a means to achieve the objective that didn't involve taking the low road. It's also distinctly possible there's more of the director reflected in Maya's early revulsion at Dan's methods than we may know.

Zero Dark Thirty is in theaters today. USA!

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar