Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty: Oh yeah, torture me!

Kathryn Bigelow has a wide-on for war-time. She portrays the mechanical complexities of modern day warfare better than anyone else, unfortunately so much so that it kind of becomes harder to enjoy. She conveys a very realistic look into the process of capturing Osama Bin Laden and since we all know the outcome, she still possesses the power to make us look on in suspense. However, as tense as Zero Dark Thirty can get, we aren't taken on an un-predictable journey. We know the outcome too well because we just dealt with it last year constantly on the news. It is interesting to see the process they had to go through in order to find him, but thats all we really get. Ben Affleck's Argo, another true political thriller this year, gave us more. The fact that the operation in Argo occurred in 1979 helps because it isn't tattooed in the common consciousness. Also, it is simply more fun and energetic than this movie, we care more for its humanistic characters. 

What we are dealing with in Zero Dark Thirty is dramatised news coverage and it feels like it. And it works well, but isn't it just more fun to be told a story than to be given fact after fact. The force that holds are attention is Jessica Chastain's performance as CIA agent Maya. Her intrigue and dedication to finding Bin Laden strengthens throughout the movie. It begins as a procedural duty for her, but soon becomes a personal vendetta due to losing friends by the hands of terrorists. Like her, we become frustrated with the formalities and slow reaction by the operation's leaders.

The opening of the movie is the torture routine carried out by CIA officer Dan (Jason Clarke). He subjects a prisoner to waterboarding, beatings and humiliation. In the most excruciating torture sequence he places the prisoner in a small box. As horrible as it is, we understand Dan's motive for doing so. What is hard to understand is why he places a dog collar around the prisoner's neck and walks him like a dog. Is it just to de-humanise him? Wouldn't the little box be enough Dan? Does it help objectively or is this a power rush for him? Dan appears to be a nice, normal fellow, which interestingly raises the question; Who wants this job? Can one switch on and off that work mentality just like that? (my thumb just rubbed off my middle finger).

Bigelow has brought this notion of questionable professions up before with her last movie The Hurt Locker (2009). That followed a bomb disposal team on their missions in Iraq, this time round we follow CIA agents interrogating and torturing affiliates of al-Quada. She seems to be attracted and intrigued by these mortal jobs, and appears to argue that the torture can be excused because of the bravery and patriotism of her protagonists. 

Bigelow has proved to be an expert in the war-thriller genre, but from a complex newsworthy perspective. It will be interesting to see what she tackles next. The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty have catapulted Bigelow into one of Hollywood's most respected directors' list. I still feel that these two films are not in the same league as her cult classic Strange Days (1995), but who's gonna listen. 

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