Saturday, January 5, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

Zero Dark Thirty (directed by Kathryn Bigelow, screenplay by Mark Boal) is the long anticipated film by the Oscar winning director of The Hurt Locker [2008] about the 2011 raid that killed Osama Bin Laden and the woman CIA operative, in the film named Maya (played by Jessica Chastain), who had the stamina/tenaciousness to, over nearly 10 years, methodically put the pieces together and find where Bin Laden was hiding.  It is a great story, a great American story, and that a woman CIA operative had a central role, and indeed several other women CIA operatives had significant roles, so much the better!  Arguably, this story could become the female equivalent of that of the Tuskegee Airmen a decorated all-African American unit of the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II whose heroism/accomplishments helped bring down the wall of racial Segregation in the United States over the decades that followed.

To be sure, the story is not a pretty one.  Much of the ground-work intel was collected using the most notorious of post-9/11 U.S. interrogation methods -- torture (sleep deprivation, leaving people chained in stress positions for hours on end, beating, mock burial and, of course, water-boarding) often in "secret prisons" including one located apparently on a ship docked in the harbor of Gdansk, Poland.  Yet, through the sifting of necessarily questionable intel from all kinds of prisoners beaten/tortured in this way, they did find that 20 or so of the prisoners mentioned the name of a personal courier to Bin Laden, though none of them knew where he would be.  It took nearly 10 years to find him, in Pakistan, even as the CIA agents themselves found their covers repeatedly compromised and lives threatened (and lost ...) on account of working in a country (Pakistan) ... that was never completely on their side. 

The film is 157 minutes (over 2 1/2 hours) in length.  So it's a commitment to watch.  Yet, if one is interested in history / spy-thrillers, then I would suspect that one would not mind the time.  It's a heck of a story to recall.

There is, of course, the question about the U.S. government's (GW Bush/Cheney Administration's) decision in the post-9/11 years to resort to torture (or torture by any other name) to extract information from those suspected of being involved with Al Queda.  Certainly, the legacy of this approach will expose captured Americans to torture in the future as well.  YET, if one is honest about it, American prisoners have been tortured and even lynched in pretty much every American war since perhaps the First World War.  Think of the Bataan Death March during World War II, the psychological torture/brain washing of American POWs during the Korean War, the torture of captured American airmen during Vietnam and the BEHEADINGS of captured Americans (often non-combatants) by Islamic Radicals during the post-9/11 years.

For its part, the Catholic Church in the modern era, despite the legacy of the Inquisition in the Medieval era, has opposed torture declaring it to violate the human dignity interestingly of both the person/people being tortured and the person/people doing the torturing.  One generally has no problem understanding the first part of that statement, but only when one thinks about it can one understand also the second part. (When you beat or torture someone, you cede your own humanity as well). 

Yet one can also understand both the anger at the mass killers of innocents and the urgency of preventing other 9/11 style massacres.  We live, after all, in a world that remains in good part ... Fallen.  (Don't believe me?  Just turn on the TV and watch the day's evening news some day ...).

Oh yes, it goes practically without saying that the film, screenplay, director Kathryn Bigelow and actress Jessica Chastain and possibly actor Kyle Chandler (as best supporting actor playing the role of Joseph Bradley, Maya's first colleague/mentor) will probably receive Oscar nominations this year and many will probably win.

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1 comment:

  1. Father, you've made the case for this film. I saw it today, and there's nothing I can add to what you've said. I will only say that in 60 years of fervent movie going, I've never seen a better film. I thought Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker was excellent, but her Zero Dark Thirty is the most extraordinary thing I've ever witnessed. Where does this talent come from?