Thursday, February 14, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (Rhoades)

“Zero Dark Thirty”
Recounts Finding
Osama Bin Laden

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Arguably a factor in Barack Obama’s reelection was the assassination under his watch of al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden by a team of US Navy SEALs. Much of that raid is classified as Top Secret, but nonetheless Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow gives us the inside story about how an elite team of intelligence and military operatives found bin Laden and took him down in an operation designated as Zero Dark Thirty.
Bigelow explains that this is a military term for 30 minutes after midnight, and “it refers also to the darkness and secrecy that cloaked the entire decade-long mission.”
And that’s the name of her movie – “Zero Dark Thirty” – currently playing at Tropic Cinema.
Here, we follow the CIA’s relentless ten-year search for the terrorist leader behind the 9/11 attacks. The kicker here is that the climax of the story is already known – we get him! It’s the set-up that remains mysterious.
Director Kathryn Bigelow and producer-screenwriter Mark Boal had intended to make an entirely different movie. They were ready to start filming a saga about the 2001 siege on bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora along the Afghan border, when news of the terrorist’s death came to them.
“The minute we heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed, what we had been working on became history,” says Bigelow. “As interesting a story as that would have been to tell, the news re-directed our entire efforts.”
They threw out the script and started over.
“Zero Dark Thirty” is based on first-hand research. “I didn’t have time to wait for the definitive book,” says Boal. “Fortunately, the years I had spent talking to military and intelligence operators involved in counterterrorism was helpful in both projects.”
A group called Judicial Watch claimed “the Obama administration granted Boal and Bigelow unusual access to agency information in preparation for their film.” A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit revealed that Boal “had a meeting with White House counterterrorism and national security officials, assorted defense and intelligence public affairs officers.”
Fearing “Zero Dark Thirty” would be released before the election, some Republicans charged that the film was a propaganda move by Obama’s supporters.
As it turns out, “Zero Dark Thirty” is being released long after the presidential election was decided.
“There’s no political agenda in the film. Full stop. Period,” says Boal. The president is not depicted in the movie. Instead, it focuses on the behind-the-scenes teams who hunted down the terrorist.
Jessica Chastain (“The Debt”) plays a CIA officer who helps connect the dots that eventually brought them to that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Kyle Chandler (“Super 8”) is cast as the CIA’s Islamabad Station Chief. Joel and Nash Edgerton appear as members of SEAL Team Six, along with Mark Duplass and Chris Platt.
“I’m fascinated by people who dedicate themselves to really difficult and dangerous things for the greater good,” says Mark Boal. “I think they’re heroic and I’m intrigued by them. I’m fascinated by the world they inhabit. I personally want to know how they caught bin Laden. All I can do is hope that it interests other people.”
CIA and Pentagon officials say they simply wanted to help because they are big fans of Bigelow’s Iraqi War drama “The Hurt Locker,” which won Oscars for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture. They like movies that depict the military in a positive light.
“Zero Dark Thirty” certainly does that … although some critics complain of the film’s moral ambiguity.
“By showing scenes of torture without taking any kind of moral (as opposed to tactical) stand on what we are seeing, Bigelow has made an amoral movie – which is, I would argue, an unconscionable approach to this material,” says Peter Rainer of Christian Science Monitor.
“Its moral ambiguity will drive some viewers nuts,” counters Andrew O’Hehir of “But in my view it is also the quality that makes ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ something close to a masterpiece.”
Richard Roper agrees. “‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is the best movie of 2012,” he says, giving two thumbs up.
New York Magazine calls it “a boneheaded right-wing revenge picture,” although admitting, “the vibe is cool.”
As for me, I’m glad the movie is neither political nor preachy. As Mark Boal points out, “It’s not a documentary. It’s a movie.”
Kathryn Bigelow describes “Zero Dark Thirty” in this way: “It’s a thriller, it’s a drama, it’s a mystery, it’s historical, it’s one of the great stories of our time. It traces the anatomy of the decade-long hunt for the world’s most wanted man.”
In a way, this is a propaganda film. Not in a political sense, but in a patriotic sense. That ritualistic chest-thumping that assures us that America’s enemies will be punished.
We need that.

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