Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

January 25, 2013

Review: ‘Zero Dark 30’

Filed under: Movies,Terrorism,War — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:19 am

Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.

Yes it’s pretty good. But if you can’t handle moral ambiguity and the often nasty way the world really works, you’ve got no business seeing it.

“Zero Dark 30” is about the hunt for Osama bin Ladin culminating in his execution by Seal Team Six.

I’d better say something here. I have some strong feelings about this, because I’d heard of Osama bin Ladin before 99.999 percent of my fellow Americans had.

My students in Saudi Arabia used to ask me if I’d heard of him when I worked in the Kingdom before 9/11. I had but I told them I hadn’t. They assured me I would someday.

Did killing Osama seriously hamper Al Queda?

No. Don’t care. It’s personal.

It was personal for “Maya” (Jessica Chastain) the CIA operative recruited just out of high school whose only significant work for The Company was tracking bin Ladin. “Zero Dark 30” is Maya’s story.

It begins on 9/11, but director Kathryn Bieglow (a pretty driven woman herself by all accounts) doesn’t show you the smoking towers, or the agonizing scenes of the victims who held hands as they jumped to their deaths.

You see a blank screen, and hear a woman trapped on a burning floor talk to a 9-11 operator.

“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” you hear as the connection is lost.

Maya is introduced as a young analyst witnessing the brutal interrogation of an Al-Queda member by CIA operative Dan (Jason Clarke).

She elects to come in without a mask. Dan asks if she wants one.

“You don’t wear one. Is he ever getting out?” Maya asks.

“He’s never getting out,” Dan says.

Maya is visibly upset. She gets over it. She witnesses beating, humiliation, and water boarding, then supervises a beating herself.

When her best friend, a mother of three (Jennifer Ehle), and six colleagues are killed in the 2009 Camp Chapman attack she goes from driven – to obsessed.

The film has upset some people.

Some Republicans claimed its release was intended to highlight President Obama’s role in authorizing an operation already in the pipeline before his administration, and help insure his re-election.

Others call it pro-torture.

But if anything the person who gets the credit for deciding to trust Maya’s certainty in spite of everybody else’s doubts, is CIA Director Leon Panetta (James Gandolfini).

Obama’s sole appearance on-screen is assuring Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes” that “America does not torture.”

A lie of course, but to be fair what else could he have said without revealing too much to our enemies?

Not exactly pro-torture, the film recognizes it happens. It’s shown having an effect on Dan. He burns out and goes home, after warning Maya that when it becomes a public issue again the last person holding the bag is going down.

The fact is, our enemies torture and brutally murder captives. Civilized people have agreed to follow certain rules, even when conducting a business as uncivilized as war. Our enemies never signed those accords. Rules are for people who play by rules.

Tell anyone that someone they love more than life is in the hands of Al-Queda and watch them join the “waterboarding is for sissies” club.

If you think this is intolerable, then you need to tell your immediate family, “I’m so sorry, I love you all, but I’d rather you died horrible deaths than cause a loathesome human being a moment’s discomfort.”

It’s also been alleged Bigelow obtained improper access to classified information.

Does it give away useful intelligence?

I don’t know. If Maya is ever outed, I wouldn’t want to be her insurance underwriter.

A CIA spokesperson said the movie is, “an accurate portrayal of the men and women of the CIA, their vital mission and the commitment to public service that defines them.”

If that’s true, it’s rather alarming. But there have been reports Maya has fired off at least one email to all the CIA people who were commended for the operation, telling them in no uncertain terms they didn’t deserve it because all they ever did was obstruct her. And that’s pretty much what the movie shows,
Maya dragging the Agency kicking and screaming into seeing it her way.

In the end, Maya sees off Seal Team Six and is waiting to identify Osama’s body on their return.

There’s a lot of ambiguity here too. They got Osama, his top henchmen, and a lot of information on hard drives, tapes, and documents.

They also killed the father of a roomful of kids, and his wife when she jumped on his body. They did by all accounts attempt to confine the killing to adult males in the compound.

But those kids are going to grow up some day. You might want to see this movie before they do.

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