Monday, January 21, 2013

Rated D - Zero Dark Thirty

D – classified information?  You came to the right place…

Welcome Back to Rated D!

This week we ventured out into the desert on a mission to visually confirm the sighting of the new movie "Zero Dark Thirty".  SPOILER ALERT:  CIA operatives spend almost a decade hunting down the elusive terrorist Osama Bin Laden.

Now before we get started… I liked this movie, I did.  But it is important to state the seemingly obvious fact that “movies… are movies” and to point out, that is true, regardless of the subject matter they tackle.  Art, I believe, in most of its forms is important and though “movies… are movies” they can be a number of things to a number of people such as: cathardic, educational, thought-provoking, enlightening, mindless entertainment, and, occasionally, life-changing.  Sometimes, however, that line between critiquing a film and passing judgment on the real life events or cultures on which it’s based gets blurred.  For example, this year’s “Act of Valor”, a fictional movie which featured actual Navy Seals portraying servicemen and women on screen, was panned by reviewers for bad acting performances.  In response, some of the American public chose to call these critics unpatriotic and demand their resignations.  The difference between live footage and reenactment is vast, regardless of who does the portrayals.  Whether we are talking about military, politics, science, religion, drama, or comedy or any genre under the sun, remember “Life is life and movies… are movies”.   So enjoy!... Or don't... you get the idea.

September 11th.  All it once it seems like 10 years ago and just yesterday.  In previous years, that day would’ve just been a normal, most likely forgettable day in America, but as we all know, it infamously became so much more.  And, to no surprise, that’s where we begin our story: sitting in darkness listening to a dizzying jumble of urgent distress calls from civilians trapped in towers, emergency responders on the ground, and military personal trying to make sense of the chaotic events of that morning until a deafening silence fills the theater.  With that reminder, let the chase begin.  The next couple of hours (and ten years) chronicle Maya, a CIA agent, played by Jessica Chastain (The Help, Tree of Life) in her quest to track down the terrorist leader responsible for the events on that grim day.  For the sake of national security and cinema, Maya, who is known as “Jen” in the book No Easy Day (which also describes the hunt for Bin Laden), is a dramatized version of a real CIA operative.  She is introduced to us during the brutal, unapologetic “enhanced interrogation” scene in which Chastain shows us a quiet beginner whose seemingly weak stomach is outmatched by her determination to get the job done.  As usual, Jessica Chastain delivers a solid, controlled performance that matures throughout the rest of the film which, as mentioned above, literally lasts ten years and, in those cases for acting, pacing is everything. 

Director Kathryn Bigelow and journalist-turned-Screenwriter Mark Boal take us deep into that world that most of us will never see, but know is out there somewhere in dark, dirty rooms at undisclosed locations.  And though the film does pull back the curtain and show us those things that we the public “want” to see, even if we close our eyes or regret it, it doesn’t really take a stand to preach for or against anything.  In fact, the movie, to me, seemed more like an extremely well acted, well cast documentary reenactment than a film made for entertainment purposes unlike this year’s “Argo” or 2009’s “The Hurt Locker” also brought to us by Bigelow and Boal.  At some points, characters admit that they gleaned little helpful information from the torture while at other times characters divulge secrets after being interrogated or simply under threat of torture.  Either way, no one is on a soap box ramming a message down your throat.  This is especially true for CIA Interrogator Dan, played by Jason Clarke (Lawless, Public Enemies), who we first meet graphically water-boarding a prisoner.  Clarke creates a fascinating character who does this dirty job as effortlessly as ordering at a drive through, but incredibly comes off as the nicest guy in the world, making it impossible not to root for him.

As you might have guessed, a movie about a manhunt for one target spread over a decade is going to be a bit long (157 minutes to be exact) and you feel every minute of it.  I found that as a good thing though.  As they feel helpless and as those around Maya lose hope, we feel the length of this story… multiply that by about a million and maybe we’d begin to understand the frustration of the real life agents, but that’s another story.  Also, it is easy to start drowning in a sea of names and aliases and cities and agents and grainy photographs and loose ends and dead ends, but again, I felt like this aided to the frustration of the search even if we all know what happens at the end.

There are too many to mention specifically, but I can say that there is no weak link in the cast.  Everyone, regardless of the size of their role, is solid as can be on screen.  No one is too over the top nor are there any huge stars that distract you and pull you out of the movie.

Finally, in the third act, we join Seal Team Six in a virtually silent raid on a ghost-like complex and are thrust into the action as Bigelow shifts back and forth between shadow filled shots and night-vision.  It’s a taut, twenty-five minutes that keeps us surging towards the main target and we are ready for it after the long journey we have taken with Maya (who incidentally must wait on the sidelines blind to the action that we get to watch).

Obviously, due to the source material and the non-disclosure agreements signed, we can only assume that this is about as close to the “true story” as we can get in order to protect those still on the front lines and the methods that they use to accomplish missions.  But still, it gives us a glimpse into a world and a war that we are all aware exists, that has affected us all in some way, and attempts to provide us with some facts and maybe even some closure… as much closure as you can ever have, that is.  Even Maya is left at the end of the movie, when all is said and done, with an unanswerable question, “Where do you want to go?”

D's Recommendation – 3.5 out of 5 – Definitely A Fascinating Watch.

To Balance Things Out…
"Spy in the Face"
Fun Spy Movies

1.  Spy Hard (1996) – Oh, Leslie Nielson, how we miss you.  Who else could’ve pulled off Agent WD-40 AKA Dick Steele?  It is what it is… which is pretty dumb… but that never stopped Nielson from committing 100% to these types of characters.  Surely, you can find something to enjoy.

2.  True Lies (1994) – Kathryn Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron brought us this one that featured Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Arnold as super spies… wait… yep, Tom Arnold.  It’s as funny as it is action-packed and Arnold’s acting performance is actually not half bad.

3.  Top Secret! (1984) – Long ago, children, there was a great actor named Val Kilmer who could do action, drama, and hilarious comedies like this WWII spy parody.  Now he does about sixteen top secret movies a year and by that I mean no one has heard of them.

4.  Get Smart (2008) – More like get new ideas.  Nailed it.  A couple of funny moments with Steve Carrell and the beautiful Anne Hathawy aren’t enough to make this tired remake good.  And there is also some oddly hostile commentary on celebrities in politics that make you… eh… by that point you probably don’t care.

5.  Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1998) – The movie that popularized and ruined the phrase, “Yeah, Baby!”  This hilarious James Bond spoof-a-rama spawned two sequels and left us all thinking that everyone wanted… NAY!... needed to hear our flawless British accents.

Rated DVD –
Men In Black 3 –
Since I really wasn’t much of a fan of the second “Men In Black” film, I really wasn’t all that enthused when I heard they were making this one.  In fact, I’m not really sure if it was overhearing some good reviews or simply seeing Josh Brolin’s awesome impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones that got me to go, but it actually turned out to be a lot of fun. 

After escaping from a prison on the moon, the vicious alien Boris the Animal travels back in time to exact revenge on the man who put him away, Agent K.  Some critics trashed it for being unnecessary… as if the first two were existential… but I thought it was a fun, harmless little ride with characters we already like and again, Josh Brolin’s Tommy Lee Jones… it’s fantastic

Next Time on Rated D...
Life of Pi – Life of Pi?  Sounds like a... No, I’m not gonna do it… Come on, Man, even you’re better than that.

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