Zero Dark Thirty [2012] – Movie Review

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Here it is. Arguably the most challenged American movie of the year (a recipe for those little golden statuettes): Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. U.S. Senators of both parties came out against the movie because it portrayed the use of torture in many of its scenes in order to extract information about the whereabouts of Bin Laden. You know, because the CIA surely did not use torture. Ever.

Zero Dark Thirty is the story of CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) on her pursuit of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden over the course of a decade. The torture methods her agency employs, which include but are not exclusive to food and sleep deprivation and waterboarding, lead her to a man called Abou Ahmad Al-Kuwaiti who, for every single non-idiot person out there, obviously comes from Kuwait. Except it’s not as obvious for the movie’s CIA agents who spend more than an hour of the movie’s 157 minutes running time on a manhunt before realizing that – GASP – Al Kuwaiti means he is from Kuwait. As they search for Osama Bin Laden’s main means of communication with the outside world, these CIA agents are faced with people who don’t want them to succeed leading to terrorist bombings in CIA headquarters, of fancy hotels, of different capitals around the world and a lot of exasperated agents who can’t fathom how they would be targeted as such.

It seems the dreadful The Hurt Locker did not satisfy Kathryn Bigelow’s appetite for American neo-political-military-award-magnet-dramas. I mean, why wouldn’t she tackle the same theme in one way or another all over again to become the first female director to win best director at the Oscars twice? Therefore, Bigelow is at it again. And Zero Dark Thirty includes not only every single thing I hated about The Hurt Locker but much, much more as well.

Jessica Chastain’s character Maya is definitely unlikeable. I hated her character to the extent that I couldn’t even appreciate her acting performance. She came off as grating, whining, overly melodramatic at times especially in a shouting scene with a CIA chief in Pakistan when she asks for extra man power in a man hunt that had been proving futile at that point. However, this type of performance is definitely the type to draw in award-voters: a charismatic female character at the heart of a male-dominated institute in the midst of the hunt for the world’s most wanted man? I can hear those voters orgasming already, which is a damn shame because if she ends up winning, she most certainly does not deserve it. Her strongest scene is right at the movie’s end as she silently reflects on the end of this decade-long era of her life. But even that scene’s potency isn’t enough.

One thing to say about Zero Dark Thirty, however, before I start grilling it is that Bigelow does well directing the movie from an “artistic” point of view. Some sequences are very well filmed, especially the raid on Bin Laden’s compound, and the movie is very technically proficient. However, a political movie like Zero Dark Thirty necessitates a politically oriented review. So here it goes.

Zero Dark Thirty is an insult on your intelligence. If there’s any movie which will get you outraged at its inaccuracy, it’s this. As a movie which wants to give itself authenticity by going the whole mile and asking you to “witness the whole truth,” it only comes off as mass propaganda about how the CIA is making the world a better place just by them being there and it portrays all those filthy Arabs living in these parts of the world as the scum of society: Muslim terrorists who can’t wait to blow up some Americans.

As they hunt for Abou Ahmad Al-Kuwaiti in some Pakistani city, the CIA van is stopped by Pakistani men. One of the Pakistanis driving gets out of the van in order to reason with the armed youth. “Shou ya chabeb?” he asks them in arabic – levantine Arabic no less – for: what’s up guys? A simple wikipedia search would have told Mrs. Bigelow that Arabic is, in fact, not spoken in Pakistan or any -stan ending country. But why would she care? Arabic-language, terrorist, Pakistan… it’s all the same for her intended audience. In fact, the movie’s scenes in Pakistan feature less Pakistani than Arabic, which is odd and definitely not “witnessing the truth” or as American critics are saying: “a movie reveling in keen detail.” Since when do Pakistanis speak Levantine Arabic?

The use of Arabic in the movie doesn’t only stop at Pakistan, it extends to various interrogation scenes where someone has to translate to Chastain’s character what the man is saying. Fair enough.

As one of the CIA agents sets up a meeting with a supposed worm within Al-Qaeda around Christmas time, she is found talking to Chastain’s character about baking a cake for the man to which Chastain replies: “Muslims don’t eat Cake.” Really? In fact, the entirety of Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t even bother to draw the line  between a religious extremist and a Muslim: it gets the boundary between the two to be so blurred that it’s so easy to confuse one with the other, making the entire movie not only highly stereotypical but highly nauseating and shallow as well.

For an American viewer, Zero Dark Thirty is definitely fascinating and I was even taken by its earlier scenes before the rhetoric started. American movie critics who don’t understand the other languages spoken in the movie and don’t have the ability to tear the movie apart from a non-cinematic perspective won’t care about the aforementioned points. Arabic, French, Pakistani – who cares? American movie critics believe that the way the hunt for Bin Laden was dramatized is chilling. They believe that the movie is politically non-biased. For those of us who can actually read into Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, it only comes off as severely culturally-inaccurate and offensive.

Bin Laden was a bad man. He killed a lot of innocent people and I’m glad he’s dead. The CIA and whichever other intelligence agencies that helped the Americans to catch that filth of a man need to be commanded for their job. But this movie is not the way. Zero Dark Thirty wants to be the definite movie about the Bin Laden manhunt. Bigelow wants the honor of being the first and last director to tackle this issue. But that is far from the case. Again, while technically proficient, the movie is not perfect. It is too slow at times and at other times, when it moves, it is only like an arthritic ninety year old man. The first twenty minutes of torturing a Saudi are chilling to watch. They are followed by almost 90 minutes of scenes that might as well be considered as an antidote to insomnia before delivering again with the Bin Laden killing scene.

By aiming to be technically proficient, Zero Dark Thirty undercuts itself by becoming emotionally detached from the material it’s trying to portray. By showing torture scenes that more often than not lead to no-tactical results, the movie is amoral. By turning the entire struggle of all of 9/11’s victims, as it starts with real-life audio from the twin towers on that horrible day, into a vehicle for Chastain and Bigelow to cash in on some rewards, the movie is also despicable. By portraying every single non-American aspect of the movie in such gross inaccurate ways, Zero Dark Thirty is horrendous. Zero Dark Thirty is, eventually, over two and a half hours of pure propaganda that is not only offensive to the memory of the Americans who died on 9/11 but to a lot of viewer’s mental capacities.

You know what’s common between Bin Laden and Zero Dark Thirty? They are both horrifyingly bad and an abomination to existence.

1/5

 

 

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Argo – Movie Review

Argo, based on a real story, is set in 1979 Iran, after the Islamic revolution at the heart of the American hostage crisis of the Carter era. 6 Americans were able to escape the confines of the embassy as it was overtaken, seeking shelter with the Canadian ambassador who harbors them as they wait inside the four walls of his house for salvation and for a rescue that never seems to come.

69 days after the American embassy in Iran events, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA agent, is called in to a secret meeting to discuss possible rescue scenarios for those 6 Americans who are at the most immediate danger with them being as exposed as they are. Mendez comes up with the ingenious idea of orchestrating a fake movie, with the help of John Chambers (John Goodman), a Hollywood make-up artist, who brings a producer to the team in order to get the plan going. And Argo is set in motion.

One of the most intense thrillers you will watch, Argo keeps you glued to your seat for the entirety of its two hour run. The intermingling of historical footage with the movie’s lead-in scenes immediately draw you in. The movie has a dark tone throughout, one that doesn’t let down – even with the many comic moments that are there to lighten the mood in stark contrast to the overall grim setting of the time during which the events take place.

Ben Affleck delivers his best movie yet as a director and with a list of movies that have all been well-done, his talent as a filmmaker is beginning to surpass that of him as an actor even though he also delivers a decent performance here. The comic relief I mentioned earlier is provided by good old John Goodman and Alan Arkin as a couple of movie-makers who are quirky and fun. The trio, Affleck included, also deliver subtle criticism at a movie industry which chases blockbuster flicks and leaves those which advance the art of filmmaking behind.

Argo brings life to a Tehran ravaged by the revolution of the 1970s. It showcases the morbid atmosphere, the oppression and the desperation present everywhere in Iran at the time. It gets your feelings regarding the country, whether positive or negative, to the surface. It doesn’t shy away from historical accuracy, even if it involves showcasing American shortcomings. It doesn’t shy away from showing all the help that America’s neighbors to the North provided, proving insurmountable to the rescue efforts. And as one of its final scenes, involving an airport, sets in, you are so taken in you can barely breathe. You feel for the characters on screen. You may already know the resolution but you can’t not be afraid for them. And if you’re not, then the only thing I have to say to you is: Argo!@#$ yourself.

9/10 

Safe House – Movie Review

In Safe House, Denzel Washington stars as Tobin Frost, a former CIA agent who has gone rogue after all his work with the agency. Upon procuring valuable information from an MI6 agent, Frost is chased down by armed men in Johannesburg and seeks shelter in the American embassy, after which he is taken to a safe house, pending investigation.

The safe house is run by Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a CIA spy who’s really not more than a housekeeper. Soon enough, however, the house turns out to be anything but safe when the location is compromised, the CIA squad protecting Weston and Frost is killed by armed men who start chasing both Frost and Weston seeking out the information that Frost possesses. As both men run for their lives, Weston is confronted by Frost’s questions as to how the safe house was compromised? is there a traitor amidst the CIA top officials? And what’s in the information that Frost possesses that could get someone that important worked up?

Safe House can be summarized in an idiom: same old, same old. While Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds work really well with the material they are given, the movie remains: less about story, more about action sequences. And at some points the action sequences are top notch. However, due to the redundancy and familiarity of the story at hand, the movie gets dull at certain times and drags on, especially when there are no action sequences to leave you transfixed. Those times, however, are minimal.

Ryan Reynolds is likeable as Matt. Denzel Washington is fierce as Frost. Vera Farmiga, who  also stars in Safe House as Catherine Linklater, a CIA official trying to get Frost and Weston to safety, is also an interesting addition to the movie. In a way, Safe House boasts an all-star cast that helps it level up its somewhat mediocre déjà vu storyline and turn in into something that will entertain you.

At the end of the day, Safe House is an energetic movie. It might have its slow moments but those are too little to get you deterred from the rampant path the movie is on. The movie also boasts some very beautiful African scenery and despite some lack of character development, as is expected in such movies, Safe House doesn’t slack off. While the plot’s ultimate lesson goes along the lines of “been there, done that,” with it being: trust no one, it doesn’t come off as saccharine or even forced. It’s a natural progression of the plot at hand. So simply put, Safe House is a movie that will entertain you during its run. My only problem with it is that its two hour run could have been comfortably shortened by at least fifteen minutes, without damaging the progression, as well as it not taking a risk with going new places with its plot. Apart from that, not a bad movie to watch on a Friday night.

7/10

 

 

Myriam Achkar’s Murder: What It is, What It Isn’t And The Need for Foreign Workers Regulation in Lebanon

R.I.P Myriam

Myriam Achkar’s murder earlier this week was truly a horrific crime, the tragedy of which can only be grasped by her family and those who knew her. Earlier in the week, she was a regular 27 year old woman, going about her life normally. She prayed, she partied, she lived her life abundantly.

And then her life was taken away from her by a racist psychopath who happened to be working at the Convent she went to pray at. Very few people can understand losing someone so young so suddenly. But perhaps I can shed a light on that. After losing my uncle to a murder as horrific as this back in 1999, I’ve seen how hard it is for your family to come to grasp with the reality of their loved ones finding this horrible untimely ending, for them to see their body maimed and mutilated almost beyond recognition. Sometimes with death, you find closure in seeing a person’s body be serene and somehow smiling as they pass on. But to know that your daughter’s body has been violated and that her death was not peaceful is something that will haunt Myriam Achkar’s mother and family until the day they join her. And at the end of the day, no condolences can ever be enough.

No, this is not a post to only mourn a person we didn’t know. This is a post by a Christian, who was at times called an angry Christian blogger, to say that Myriam Achkar’s murder was not an act by an anti-Christian Syrian against a Lebanese Christian. Myriam was not killed because she was carrying a rosary and a bible and going to pray. She was murdered because she happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, falling to the hands of a sick predator.

I’ve seen Lebanese media go on and on again about how Myriam Achkar is a new martyr on the altars of Christianity. And while the idea does seem pleasing for many, it will only spring up hate and more sectarian divisions in the lines of a country that has as fragile a unity as it can be. Myriam’s death was that of a woman who fell to the pangs of a rapist. Our media tends to overblow things out of proportion by looking at the background baggage that everyone has.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to lessen her murder. If there’s anything we can take out of this death, it’s not that of a Christian martyr, it’s that of a girl whose life must be a lesson to everyone that our borders, our regulations, our laws cannot be as “open” as they are.

First, why is it that this particular convent in Sahel Alma chose to hire a Syrian to be its keeper of the grounds. Couldn’t they have found a needy Lebanese family that would have gladly taken the job? To say that many Lebanese find it beneath them is, based on many observations, a myth. I’m from small-town Lebanon. I’ve seen small-town Lebanon and it is not as high-class as people think all of the Lebanese are. There are Lebanese women who want to work in houses to clean. There are Lebanese men whom you can hire to work in your land. The difference between those Lebanese and the Syrians? We tend to overlook the Lebanese because they are ask for more expensive fees and because the Syrians are more numerous. But should a Maronite convent even care about finances? I, as a Maronite, would be appalled by my Church if it didn’t help out needy Lebanese families, at the very least, to get a job. Couldn’t they have found someone in the neighboring villages of Keserwein to work as the janitor in the Monastery?

Second, why is it that Syrian workers can come to the country as they please, do what they please and then leave? Why is it that many working visas are rejected for so many applicants from so many different countries and yet Syrians can come to Lebanon, unchecked and start working? Why is it that many foreign friends of mine have to struggle to get their work papers in order while Syrians have to do nothing while Lebanese workers who go to Syria have to go through as much red tape as other foreign workers?

Third, why is it that parts of our government are more readily willing to kill off CIA members than to seek out Syrian intelligence filth that are spread all around our nation, causing us more harm by killing our women and men that the CIA has ever caused?
Why is it that the value of Lebanese youth’s life is so lessend by certain political parties in Lebanon that they’d rather smuggle the Syrian who killed Myriam out of Lebanon than to get him to face his crime?

I do not approve of what the people in Ketermaya did to the Egyptian who killed off a whole family last year, by killing him in front of the whole town to see. I do not approve of civilians taking justice in their own hands, as many are asking regarding Myriam Achkar’s murder. But it’s so hard not to ask for that and say they do have a point when the Syrian Intelligence killer was attempted to be smuggled out of the country. It is very difficult to think that this murderer will get preferential treatment, that the life of Myriam Achkar is useless, that her murderer will never face justice – just because you have people INSIDE Lebanon who care more about the feelings of Bashar Assad’s men than about the lives of their fellow countrymen.

Myriam Achkar is a martyr for Lebanon. She is not just a martyr for women around the region. She is a martyr for every Lebanese and a cautionary tale that we really need to stop giving preferential treatment for certain nationalities just because we are neighboring countries while nationals of that country have caused us so much harm. No, it’s not racism. I’m not calling to ban all foreign workers from coming to the country and taking them out of their houses like the municipalities of Burj Hammoud did. I’m calling for limitations, for reservations and for regulations.

Until then, rest in peace Myriam Achkar. That is all we can say to her. As for everyone else, hopefully some new dawn for Lebanon will be one where the struggles of everyone are seen equally.