Alternate Title: “How Half-Drowning Detainees and a Lamborghini Helped Kill Osama Bin Laden”
I went into “Zero Dark Thirty” with some pretty lofty expectations, and as she did with “The Hurt Locker,” Kathryn Bigelow pretty much kicked every form of cinematic ass imaginable with her latest release. The film is only slightly controversial, with members of the CIA and Congress claiming that the flick is a wheelbarrow of lies and exaggerations, while conservative pundits (read: the ramblings of madmen) accuse the film of being pro-Obama agitprop of the highest caliber. Granted, the film is probably more malarkey than historical fact, but I think you can say the exact same thing about every other supposed “historical drama”, too. Consider the new Lincoln biopic, for one: dude, everybody knows vampires didn’t even make it to the U.S. until The Spanish-American War!
As for the film itself, it’s pretty much the greatest movie James Cameron has never made. Don’t let the Oscar-bait hubbub convince you this is Merchant-Ivory fare, because at heart, the film is much, MUCH more in line with “Terminator 2” than “The King’s Speech.” In fact, the film, in at least some ways, is almost a parallel for “Aliens,” with a kick-ass yet fairly stoic female lead being enmeshed into a circle of technologically-adept grunts, fighting a mysterious, underground enemy while simultaneously weaving herself in and out of bureaucratic collusion. Of course, one of the movies has the dude from “Mad About You” being eaten by eight foot tall lizard people, but beyond the aesthetics, we’re pretty much dealing with the exact same plot here.
The film begins with some actual telephone calls recorded from inside the WTC on 9/11, so literally a MINUTE into the film, you’re already sweating and feeling uncomfortable and kinda’ sick at your stomach. After that, we’re whisked away to some black site out in the middle of god know’s where, and watch a couple of CIA operatives waterboard this one dude that may or may not know who Osama Bin Laden’s courier is. From there, we’re introduced to the main character of the film, which just so happens to be Celia Foote from “The Help.” A lot of people are saying that she put on a tour de force performance in the film - and yeah, she probably did - but the only thing I could really pay attention to was just how pouty her lips were. We’re talking Angelina Jolie levels, really, and if you pay real close attention, you can actually observe how most of her upper lip is actually the same color as her flesh as opposed to your normal lip hue. It’s a little hard to describe in words, but as soon as you see it, you’ll know what I’m talking about - and for the rest of the movie, it’s just going to distract the hell out of you. I promise.
So, the CIA spends a good four years stuffing dudes into four foot-by-four foot boxes and forcing hairy dudes to drink orange stuff through a funnel, and then, 7-7 happens, and everybody gets all morose and hopeless again, but Celia just ain’t giving up and continues to relentlessly pursue this one dude that’s allegedly bin Laden’s delivery boy, because she reckons that if they peg him, finding the al-Qaeda big cheese really wouldn’t be that hard to locate.
And, we get more terrorist attacks. There’s a particularly unnerving scene in a hotel that gets rocked, and there is an INSANELY intense scene dramatizing the 2009 Camp Chapman attack that might just go down in history as one of the most nerve-shredding moments in film history. With her BFF done-in by a suicide bomb, Celia decides that it is time to REALLY clamp down on her lead, and eventually comes to find out that the dude that they thought was bin Laden’s delivery boy was in fact the brother of bin Laden’s ACTUAL messenger, and that for the last nine years, the CIA has been in hot pursuit of a dude that’s been dead for almost an entire decade.
Now we get to the part of the movie that I would LOVE to see some heavy duty historical research on: according to the film - which, itself, seems to be based on several different accounts of the Kill-Bin-Laden campaign - the CIA was able to locate OBL’s delivery boy by procuring the telephone number of the delivery boy’s mother in Pakistan. It’s not really an unusual premise, but it’s more or less how the film said the deal went down that has me shaking my head in simultaneous awe and bewilderment: the CIA, allegedly, picked up the tab for some rich Kuwaiti dude’s Lamborghini, and THAT was the key turning point that lead to the assassination of the world’s most wanted fugitive.
From there, it becomes the procedural movie to end all procedural movies, as Jessica Chastain and her un-lip-colored lips keep pushing the CIA to pursue this lead, eventually to the point where they not only find the supposed OBL delivery-boy, but even find an Abottobad compound with a mysterious tenant that may or may not be old Blowy-Up-Stuff hisself.
|How this thing hasn't been turned into a commemorative Lego set, I'll never understand...|
We get some more “down with the bureaucracy” subplot, and eventually, Barack Obama gives the green light for the raid, and everybody flies out to Area 51 to get a look at some experimental helicopters and then…it is ON.
Folks, the last 45 minutes of this movie absolutely SEALED it for me (and uh, no pun intended, of course.)You think you’ve seen some awesome action scenes in movies before? Forget it, because the actual raid sequence in “Zero Dark Thirty” puts just about everything you’ve seen at the Multiplex over the last 25 years to shame. Yeah, yeah, we all know how it ends, but with that in mind, it just seems to make the sequence all that more harrowing and intense. Granted, some of the helicopter CGI looks a little crappy, but beyond that? It’s a dénouement that, in my opinion, outdoes everything in Nolan’s Bat-Trilogy COMBINED times twenty.
The finale is also pretty fantastic, ending on one of the most morally ambiguous notes you could imagine. In a way, I guess you could say that the final sequence - involving a young woman, wondering what she will do now that the main target of the “War on Terror” has been eliminated - is kind of a metaphor for the U.S. as a geopolitical titan. We’ve spent so much money and wreaked so much havoc to “avenge” the 3,000 killed on 9/11 that now that the “revenge” mission is complete, what sort of ideological and moral value do we have anymore? Alike the main character in the film, all we can do is cry, reflect, and wonder what the hell’s next. (Take your pick, folks: Iran, Syria, Russia, China…they’re all wonderful choices!)
I guess there are two ways of looking at the film, and depending on which lens you go with, you’ll net two totally divergent outcomes. First off, if you’re just catching the flick for its popcorn value, than you will assuredly get your money’s worth. Not only is it an outstanding, intellectual action-flick, it’s also one of the most riveting movies to come out in 2012. Very rarely do you get mainstream flicks that are both fantastic works of cinema - with outstanding acting, direction and a literate plot - AND tremendous movie going experiences - you know, with loud exploding sounds and hyper-tense “OH SHIT” moments and the like - and with “Zero Dark Thirty,” you’re getting the best of both worlds.
Now, as a 100 percent reliable, historical drama, though…well, I wouldn’t exactly suggest taking this shit as the gospel. While several of the characters in the film are pretty obvious stand-ins, a majority of the characters appear to be composite figures, and actually ID-ing who several of the more prominent characters - including the central figure of the film - are as actual people seems to be next to impossible. You get some fact, but for the most part, the flick is all dramatization, with artistic licenses doled out to seemingly everybody involved in its production.
I guess you don’t really need me to tell you this, but the film is freaking fantastic and you probably need to see it. As far as I am concerned, it’s definitely one of the best films of 2012, a flick easily on par with stuff I utterly adored like “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” and “Samsara.” I probably enjoyed “The Hurt Locker” a little bit more, but the scope of this film is a whole lot wider and as such, makes the film all that more impressive to take in. Considering the gargantuan amount of terrain the film covers - really, ten plus years, over the course of three different presidential reigns - the film could have easily collapsed under its own ambitions, but to Bigelow’s credit, the film remains captivating from start to finish - no small feat for a film that flirts with a running time of almost three hours.
How good is “Zero Dark Thirty?” Well, I can’t predict the future, but I can tell you this: if we ever get a movie about the “War on Terror” that’s better than this one, we ought to drop to our knees and thank the movie gods for giving it to us…