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Wick's Review

Created Jan 06, 2013 10:57PM PST • Edited Sep 11, 2019 04:51AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Really Great 4.5

    Zero Dark Thirty tells the truthy tale of the deadly hunt for Osama bin Laden, making it one of the most potent political movies of all time. The certain reverberations are hard to predict. Wikileaks? Wikiflick.

    It starts with a dark screen, then a title card. September 11, 2001. Screen still dark, radio chatter fills the air, capturing the desperate last words between al-Qaeda’s doomed victims and feckless 911 operators.

    It ends with a statement that any character, characterization, dialogue and – you know – most any “fact” can and may be bullshit. Any resemblance between any character to any person, living or dead, is strictly coincidental we’re informed via small print – the complete lawyered-up crapola cop-out. Nonetheless, victors write the history of wars. Guess that makes Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures and Kathryn Bigelow’s ballsy direction the victors of this PR battle about the Islamist War. Congrats to them.

    Just don’t take everything in their movie as veritatem omnino. Was torturous interrogation widespread? No. Did US operators double-tap downed hostiles? Yes. Was the entire operation so threadbare? Maybe. Senators Feinstein, Levin and McCain disagree with parts of ZDT. The CIA disagrees with others.1

    The White House wants to know when President Obama gets his close-up. He’s ready. OK, just kidding. The President took waaay more than his fair share of close-ups during his recent reelection campaign. Thank goodness then that Katheryn Bigelow relegates the Great Egomaniac to a mere soundbite in ZDT.

    ZDT achieves its greatest power by recreating the raid on bin Laden’s Abbottabad fortress, which commenced at 12:30am – Zero Dark Thirty in military lingo. Coming at the end of the movie, the operation is more than a little nail-biting and even more impressive than we’d known till now. Wow.

    Thank goodness we’re worthy of such men to fight our wars.

    And thank goodness for the cinematic heroine behind them. Played by Jessica Chastain, she’s a composite of the many real heroes who hunted down the modern world’s greatest villain. That said, their job – the war against Islamism, the Islamist War – isn’t over. It’s well past Zero Dark Thirty now, but nowhere near dawn.

    1 Getting Dirty Getting bin Laden

  3. Great 4.0

    Jessica Chastain’s willowy strength is an ongoing contradiction in terms. As the composite character who broke the bin Laden case, can she hold strong amidst the carnage and testosterone fueled intensity? She does, but comes across more emotionally remote than even the role requires, making her performance effective if not ideal.

    Jason Clarke is notably great as a front-line CIA muckymuck charged with wringing actionable intel out of al-Qaeda captives. He’s the one who dances on the line of expediency and regret.

    Kyle Chandler is stellar as their CIA boss in Pakistan. Chastain and Chandler have a nose-to-nose hallway clash that is a classic for the ages. Chandler should be in most every movie from here on out. Yes?

    Mark Strong delivers a typically strong performance as Chandler’s boss, the top CIA muckymuck globally in charge of getting bin Laden. This is a guy who knows how to deliver a conference room stem-winder!

    SEAL Team Six is well represented by Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Frank Grillo and almost two dozen other studs. Edgerton gets to play the guy who shot bin Laden, inevitably bringing to mind The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Legendary heroism is often lost in legend.

    Others in the vast cast:

    • Reda Kateb as an Islamist terrorist who never loses faith in his sick Jihad, even if he ultimately breaks.
    • Jennifer Ehle as a well intentioned woman in a brutal man’s world.
    • Harold Perrineau as a crafty CIA agent.
    • Mark Duplass as a mid-level CIA bureaucrat.
    • James Gandolfini as the CIA Director, who in real life is Leon Panetta. All the characters are thus fictionalized.
  4. Male Stars Great 4.0
  5. Female Stars Great 4.0
  6. Female Costars Very Good 3.5
  7. Male Costars Really Great 4.5
  8. Really Great 4.5

    Writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow focus their film on the hunt for bin Laden, thus making al-Qaeda terrorists the hunted and therefore superficially sympathetic characters for most of the story. This has the potential to confuse weak minded viewers, though the filmmakers also put the CIA hunters in harm’s way on a few occasions, a bracing reminder of the stakes of the chase.

    The concluding segment documenting Operation Neptune Spear, the raid on bin Laden’s fortress compound, is especially well done and gripping in the extreme.

  9. Direction Perfect 5.0
  10. Play Great 4.0

    The story plays as a procedural, familiar to any fan of detective drama. Fortunately it contains several live wire dialog scenes, most involving Jessica Chastain’s dogged analyst. Her scene going toe-to-toe with her boss (played by an excellent Kyle Chandler) is a classic, as is her earthy reply to the C.I.A. Director when he asks who she is.

    “I’m the motherf****r who found bin Laden.” You go girl!

  11. Music Great 4.0
  12. Visuals Perfect 5.0
  13. Content
  14. Risqué 2.5
  15. Sex Innocent 1.1
  16. Violence Brutal 3.0
  17. Rudeness Profane 3.5
  18. Glib 1.2

    Zero Dark Thirty imagines a wide range of front-line activities that are doubted by informed observers, including widespread and casual use of water-boarding, same with the physical and sexual humiliation of prisoners. Based on an entirely credible Washington Post piece by CIA veteran Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., I’m rating the movie’s CircoReality at 150% of normal.

    Movie reality aside, let’s consider what the movie suggests about our ongoing war with Islamist Terrorism.

    Rachel Maddow asked on January 4, 2013 how long we need to keep fighting this war against Islamism? One of the captured al-Qaeda baddies is asked a similar question in ZDT. How long will they keep fighting? “One Hundred Years” he replies. We can hope their Jihad will peter out sooner now that bin Laden is gone. But – needless to say – we can’t plan on it. Hope ain’t a plan.

    As to our treatment and interrogation techniques of terrorists, the notable thing isn’t that front-line US personnel dealt harshly with them and those close to them. Rather, what’s notable is that they were as restrained and judicious as they were – going out of their way to spare women and children, avoiding summary executions or long-term debilitating techniques. Contrast that with the enemy, which purposely targets civilians and revels in summary executions, often by the most barbarous methods imaginable. Beheading anyone?

    This isn’t to let us off the hook for upholding the standards that make the United States of America the greatest nation on earth, but it’s to acknowledge that brutality must be met by brutal strength to win a war against medieval brutes.

  19. Circumstantial Glib 1.5
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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