Tuesday, February 5, 2013


I was putting off seeing this flick because of what I'd heard about the torture scenes, and because of what I'd read about the "torture works" slant it supposedly has. But I wanted to see the work of Kathryn Bigelow and Jessica Chastain.

I wasn't disappointed in the latter. Chastain has proven herself to be one of our most versatile movie actors, and she does it again in ZERO DARK THIRTY. Like Daniel Day Lewis in LINCOLN, Chastain, for me, is the reason to see this movie. My vote still goes to Jennifer Lawrence in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (what is it with these vaguely indecipherable mechanistic sounding three-word titles), the other profoundly versatile movie actor these days, but ZERO DARK THIRTY is worth watching because of Jessica Chastain and some aspects of the movie making.

And as for the torture scenes, they weren't as bad as I was led to believe (the waterboarding Matt Damon's character experiences in the first BOURNE flick was much scarier). Bigelow certainly knows how to build tension and turn military hardware into art objects, and either her or her cinematographer did a terrific job framing shots. The movie's a work of art when it comes to just looking at it. But her directing of actors, for my taste, as well as her casting (sorry, not a Jeremy Renner fan in HURT LOCKER) isn't as perfect as a lot of other directors.

Maybe not unsurprisingly, the strongest performances in the flick are Chastain's and the other female lead, Jennifer Ehle. But some of the men in the mostly male cast just didn't work for me. And as for the political controversy, a lot of the rightwing media like the movie because it seems to justify torture, particularly waterboarding, because the victims in the flick give up information that eventually leads to Bin Laden.

The only problem is, those with the most personal experience in how interrogations went under Bush/Cheney when waterboarding and other extreme torture was at its height testify that those measures brought nothing but misinformation, and the leads that led to Bin Laden were all from the kinds of interrogation that don't use torture and have been proven to be more effective.

Getting that wrong is the writer Mark Boel's fault. He cites sources at the CIA who fed him what was essentially a justification for their extreme methods, but ex-CIA and retired special ops people in the know have refuted that. Boel was involved in HURT LOCKER as well, and from my perspective distorted some of that reality too.

Not to say the narrative doesn't work as a movie. It just shouldn't be seen as dramatizing real history, except for maybe the raid on Bin Laden's compound itself (though it did seem to me and others watching with me that the way that was shot some troops were left behind, which wasn't the case and I don't think was intended by the filmmakers). Unfortunately this will be the main way a lot of people around the world, including Islamic societies, and younger generations here and elsewhere, will probably get their perception of how Bin Laden's downfall came about.

For that I hold Boel and Bigelow (she seems to be in thrall to him) responsible. Not that they care. But I do.


tpw said...

Dear M: I think you've hit all the nails on the head. I liked Jessica Chastain and more or less enjoyed the movie, but I don't think it deserves an Oscar. And connecting the torture directly to useful intelligence is pretty inexcusable. When are some of these filmmakers going to make a movie about the ways our civil liberties have been critically eroded under both Bush and Obama? Anyway, Homeland is better.

Anonymous said...

hasn't Michael More done so?

Robert G. Zuckerman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert G. Zuckerman said...

Robert G. Zuckerman said...
The key phrase being "responsible" and "responsibility" an area in which unfortunately, Hollywood has a lot of catching up and stepping up to do, although there is good being done - it's just not prevalent as it needs to be in this critical period of existence. Wanton and reckless ongong depiction of gun violence being a primary example-- making what should be unthinkable all too thinkable, and do-able.