Zero Dark Thirty [2012] – Movie Review

zero-dark-thirty-poster

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

 

 

The Oscars Debrief

This year’s award season to celebrate the high quality 2010 movies is over. The Academy has spoken and The King’s Speech is the big winner.

The ceremony opened up with a very funny bit of montage with this year’s hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, doing acting bits in the Best Picture nominated movies. We were able to watch them be part of Inception, The Social Network, True Grit, The King’s Speech, etc… and it was quite awesome. Anne Hathaway had some awesome lines, notably when, during her “role” in The King’s Speech she says: “we come from the future with good news… we have smaller microphones” or when she freaks out Natalie Portman in Black Swan as the green duck.

And then they started their opening segment which was very dull apart from a couple Hathaway lines about how it’s been a great year for lesbians and how getting naked isn’t enough anymore to warrant a best actress nomination, taking a stab at herself for her mostly nude movie Love and Other Drugs.

Soon after that, Tom Hanks came on to present the first two awards of the night, Art Direction (Alice in Wonderland won) and Cinematography (Inception).

Then, Kirk Douglas came up to present Supporting Actress and I honestly thought it was torture. He kept pushing on the nominees’ buttons and it was pretty interesting to see them getting prepared for the results only to see him divert the subject elsewhere. Melissa Leo won this, as expected, although many had predicted an upset (myself included). Melissa Leo then a very horrible acceptance speech where she dropped the F-word, only to become the night’s go-to joke about acceptance speeches. Literally, everyone who won something referenced her in his acceptance speech.

Melissa Leo

However, soon enough, it began to look like The King’s Speech was not going to own the night as many had predicted. The race was as close as it can be. Soon enough, even Alice in Wonderland had two Oscars.

Supporting Actor went to Christian Bale, as was pretty much expected. So if anyone believes the combination of a Screen Actors Guild Award and Golden Globe doesn’t make you a lock for an Oscar win, this night proved you wrong. The “weakest” frontrunners in the acting categories came out unscathed and victorious.

In the meantime, Anne Hathaway continued a pretty overzealous and energetic hosting job by dressing up as man and taking a stab as Hugh Jackman (Or Huge Jackass as she named him) by singing and dancing about it. And just when you thought she dwarfed Franco beyond measure, he comes up on stage in pink drag. That was probably his most memorable moment. He just looked like he didn’t want to be there.

Anne Hathaway Singing At The Oscars

Continuing with the awards, Inception received both Sound-related awards, to raise its total to three, leading the night. The Social Network scored two quick wins for Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay, as expected.

Then there was a bunch of awards for short films most of us hadn’t watched. Oprah then presented the award for Best Documentary. Inside Job won. I thought Oprah looked dead tired.

Documentary was soon followed by the nerve-wracking Film Editing. It has become known that the movie that wins Film Editing is the favorite to win Best Picture. And in a night where the combination of the awards handed out so far didn’t single out a clear frontrunner, this award looked like it might seal the deal. The Social Network won this and adding to its Adapted Screenplay and Original Score, it looked like we might have a Social Network sweep – again.

Russell Brand and Helen Mirren presented Best Foreign Language Film and Helen Mirren came across yet again as a superb class act by addressing the audience in fluent French. All hail to the queen!

For you animation lovers, this year’s animation phenomenon Toy Story 3 went home with the gold, winning two Oscars, one for Best Animated Feature and the second one for Best Original Song.

Speaking of Best Original Song, there were four performances, the highlight of which was A.R. Rahman and Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine singing “If I Rise”. It was a chills-inducing performance and the song deserved to win. Gwyneth Paltrow sang nominated song “Coming Home” from her latest movie “Country Strong” and I thought she did well. Randy Newman, the writer of Toy Story’s theme song “We Belong Together” mentioned how weird it was not to have a fifth song nominated. And I agree with this. “There’s A Place For Us” by Carrie Underwood for the movie Chronicles of Narnia deserved a nomination.

Later on, Inception reclaimed its title for top movie of the night by earning its fourth Oscar for Visual Effects, a much deserved win – although my heart also wanted Harry Potter to snag its first Academy Award. Which reminds me, The Wolfman won for best makeup. And I thought it was an abomination how this movie gets to flaunt an Academy Award and the whole Harry Potter series has none. Having said that, Deathly Hallows Part 2 better bring it at next year’s Oscars!

Speaking of Harry Potter, there was a funny segment as well about how “musicals” have been an important part of the business this part year. The segment comprised of dialogue parts from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, The Social Network and Twilight, among other movies, transformed into song. I thought it was pretty cool, actually.

And since it’s not the Oscars without a proper “In Memoriam” segment, Celine Dion sang a beautiful rendition of “Smile” to a montage of the pictures of industry people that have left us, commemorating their memory.

Continuing with James Franco still looking like he’d rather be anywhere but the Oscars, we get to the final and most important stretch of the night. The last four awards: Director, actor, actress and picture.

Director comes up. Drumroll, please… and what do you know, it’s our first major upset of the night. Presented by last year’s undeserving winner Kathryn Bigelow (yes, I think The Hurt Locker is such an overrated movie!) Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech overtakes David Fincher for The Social Network, who looked like a frontrunner for this category. Tom Hooper delivered a remarkable speech, telling the story of how if it weren’t for his mother, The King’s Speech wouldn’t have been made. I have to say, British people make the best acceptance speeches. This win, however, brings us back to square zero in our movie frontrunner race. Best Picture is back up for grabs.

The Best Actress category was announced by last year’s Best Actor winner, Jeff Bridges. And honestly, I much preferred last year’s nominees introduction. It just seemed so bland and rushed this year around, like they simply wanted to get it over with. These are five women who gave it their all to be where they were, at least give them the decency of properly introducing them. I still get goosebumps when remembering how Stanley Tucci introduced the great Meryl Streep and how Oprah introduced newcomer Gabourey Sidibe last year… No surprise here, however, Natalie Portman won this. She acted surprised and I thought it wasn’t that credible. Sure, you’re happy and all but come on, you’ve seen this one coming since December. It’s not like Jennifer Lawrence or Michelle Williams or even Annette Bening had a late moment surge in votes. She looked very pregnant and gave a pretty boring speech. I was thankful she did not mention her “sexual activities” with her fiance but she enumerated too many names than I care to remember. Last year’s speech by sweetheart Sandra Bullock beats this by a country mile!

Contrast it with this:

Then it was time for yet another expected category with Best Actor. We all knew Colin Firth was going to win this, but what made the category extra-special was Sandra Bullock’s introduction of the nominees. She walked the line between seriousness and humor so meticulously. She radiated with confidence. I think she should host next year’s Oscars. She is just all kinds of awesome! So yeah, Colin Firth won. He opened up his speech about how he might have hit “the apex of [his] career” and then his speech became another snooze-fest. You’d think after all the rehearsals in the movie he won for and the fact that he is British and it’s in their genes to deliver awesome acceptance speeches, he’d do a better job.

And then it was time for the moment of truth. Which movie would turn out a winner out of the two that are seriously left battling it out?

The King’s Speech came out triumphant, bringing its total to four Oscars, tying it with Inception for first place. The whole cast and producers came on stage, a speech I did not care about ensued.

Following The King’s Speech “expected” win, the P.S. 22 Chorus closed the night with their rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, the winners joined them on stage. And we’re out people!

All in all, I felt last year’s Oscars had more prestige. I thought they didn’t give the movies nominated for Best Picture their due. Each movie had a segment introducing it last year. This time around, the movies were parodied and barely mentioned when their category came up. Maybe the Academy personnel should care about delivering a better ceremony show suitable for the Oscars than a show to attract young viewers?