Thursday, February 14, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" has arrived at The Tropic. Already it is a near iconic tale in our culture about the hunt and capture of Osama bin Laden.

The protagonist, a CIA agent named Maya, is apparently based on a composite of two real agents: Alfreda Bikowski and Michael Anne Casey. Although I can't vouch for how true the film is to actual events, the suspense and apprehension is undeniable. Not since Alan Parker's "Midnight Express" have I felt so anxious. The construction of the film, its theme and current impact has much to do with our fascination with the daring resourceful female agent  in "The Silence of the Lambs" as well as our love for James Bond.

Jessica Chastain is excellent as CIA agent Maya. She is a hammer of red flames driven by the hunt with a single goal in mind: bin Laden. She is both more human and more adaptable than any Terminator machine. Maya is shot at in her car. In one especially jolting scene she is bombed. She emerges stern, resolute and almost bemused by her infinite and dangerous search. When asked by CIA director Leon Panetta (played by James Gandolfini) what else she has done in her career, she says blankly, "Nothing. I've done nothing else." For Maya it is a program that is hard wired within and it is a role that would make Jody Foster jealous.

"Zero Dark Thirty" is no true story snoozer.  Despite its two and a half hour running time, it is as riveting as any espionage thriller with enough twists to rival Robert Ludlum or Ian Fleming.

The oft-mentioned torture scenes, although  unsettling  and queasy by the very depiction of water-boarding, felt rather tame by comparison to TV's "24", Tony Scott's "Man on Fire" or DePalma's "Scarface". More nerve-wracking by far is the helicopter trip into the mountains or the Navy SEALs confronting the bin Laden compound clustered with ten year old children. A SEAL's lime green glow stick is both a creepy harbinger and a symbol of hope and diversion.

What begins in tone to seem like propaganda, builds in anxiety to show the hunt for an evil man in all its labyrinthine questions and utter frustration. This is as much of an existential film of suspense as it is a film of a woman on a mission. By the end of the film as our hero flies alone, physically overwhelmed on a military plane, she seems as much Franz Kafka as Clarice Starling or Jason Bourne.

"Zero Dark Thirty" is a compelling work for giving us an unflinching look at current events in a glib Bond-like format.

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