Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2012) The Hunt for Osama Bin Laden

I knew I was going to watch Kathryn Bigelow’s next movie, no matter what it would be about but I would have wished she had chosen another topic.

Zero Dark Thirty is an almost 3 hour-long movie on the hunt for Bin Laden. It starts on 9/11 … with voices of victims recorded during the attacks. Next thing we’re in a detention center in Pakistan witnessing CIA agents torturing a man. A male agent is torturing while a female CIA agent, Maya, is watching. Maya is new, recruited fresh from college, and assigned to one of the most important tasks in CIA history – the hunt for Bin Laden.

While she only watches the interrogations at first, she will later lead them and become the most important agent in this assignment. As early as 2002 0r 2003 she starts to follow a lead, a man she believes to be in contact with Bin Laden himself, a courier. Unfortunately the guy is very elusive, the captured and tortured men contradict each other, his name seems only a nick name, his true identity cannot be found. Eventually he is even said to be dead.

Maya is considered to be obsessed and her superiors start to doubt that what she is pursuing is real. But she won’t give up and is proven right in the end. The rest is history.

I felt very uncomfortable watching this movie. The torture scenes are unpleasant and the fact that the US, who always denied that they use torture, are shown doing it even more so.

Does the outcome justify this? The movie is showing the story as it was. Or is it not? That’s the big question. What we see are scenes showing a group of CIA agents trying to find a man, using every possible way, alternating with scenes from terrorist attacks. Islamabad, London, New York…. While the CIA hunts Bin Laden, the terrorists don’t sleep.

The movie takes a lot of time to tell the story and the first 2 hours are long. I couldn’t help finding the last action-packed sequence interesting. They show the final moments, when the special troops invade the compound where Bin Laden was hiding and how they kill him.

The movie is OK but certainly not a must-see. I’m clueless why anyone would want to make a movie about this. If you are not familiar with the details, it’s interesting to watch but it still left a very bad taste. It is like a documentary and never questions anything, never accuses. It seems to say that without torture, Bin Laden would never have been captured. That’s quite possible but does that make torture acceptable? On the other hand, terrorism is despicable…

I was wondering why Bigelow chose this topic. Because a woman found him? Since I’m not watching the news very often, I don’t know how much was known about the CIA’s interrogation techniques. Is the movie meant to get rid of the general public’s naivety about torture?

I don’t think I’ve seen Jessica Chastain who plays Maya before and couldn’t help comparing her to Claire Danes in Homeland. I’m afraid I like Danes much better. Not only as an actress but I also like her character better. She seems a tad more conflicted about what she is doing. Other actors worth mentioning are Jennifer Ehle, Jason Clarke and Joel Edgerton.

As I’ve just said above, this isn’t a must-see. I’m truly disappointed in Kathryn Bigelow.

Have you seen the movie? Did you like it?

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Homeland (2011- ) US TV Series starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis

I’ve finally got a chance to watch the first few episodes of The US TV series Homeland.

Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) went missing in Iraq eight years ago, one of his friends who was there with him was found dead. His return causes quite a commotion. Not only among the public, journalists and the CIA but also in his family. He left a young wife and two small children behind when he went missing. His wife is having an affair with a friend and superior, the children are almost teenagers and estranged. And then there is Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), an intense CIA officer who thinks that he has been turned by his captors and is plotting a terrorist attack on America.

Mathison made a lot of mistakes in the past and the CIA would like to get rid of her. Nobody believes her suspicions at first, she doesn’t get funding and decides to act on her own, breaking one federal law after the other, installing surveillance cameras in Brody’s home, following his each and every move, trying to catch him making contact.

The series kicks of well, it’s gripping and suspenseful, the premise, a US soldier who may only have survived captivity because he was turned, is interesting. Still, I had a few reservations. I wonder whether it is that realistic, to free someone from an eight year captivity and to push him right away to face journalists, politicians, CIA and the masses. The other problem I had, was the character Claire Danes played. She is driven and ambitious and a bit of a lunatic. On top of that she pops pills. We learn later that it is clonazepam – in other words a benzo – a heavy antipsychotic which is often used for unspecific or atypical psychosis. Hmmm…. Not sure what to think about that. Usually I have problems with the depiction of mental illness in movies and books. But I haven’t seen enough yet, so maybe they will get it right. It’s obvious that they want to make us doubt the character. It’s not an easy role, whether it will be believable in the end or not, and I think, Claire Danes does a great job.

Carrie is also tracking one of the most important terrorists, Abu Nazir. When she interrogates Brody she asks him whether he has met him during his captivity and he lies and says no.

As said, it starts quite good, quite intense but I couldn’t tell yet where it is going or whether I will really like it or not. But it’s certainly worth trying.

Act of Valor (2012) US Special Forces Against Terrorists

Not long ago I reviewed the French movie Forces Spéciales – Special Forces (here) and so it was only natural I would also watch Act of Valor sooner or later, especially since The War Movie Buff pointed out that they sounded similar. I find it particularly interesting now that I have seen them both, to compare them and that’s why I will post a comparison in a day or two.

Act of Valor tells the story of a group of Navy Seals (played by real Navy Seals) sent to rescue a CIA agent who has been abducted. She was investigating the connection between two men, a drug dealer and a known terrorist.

Contrary to what was expected at the beginning, the mission isn’t over after the agent has been freed. They realize that what is behind her abduction is far bigger than what was initially seen. As a matter of fact, a group of suicidal bombers, wearing explosives which cannot be detected by any metal detector are about to enter the US. They will be posted in every major city. The damage they will cause, will be far worse than 9/11.

At this point in time, the team splits and we follow first those who try to capture the drug-dealer and then the others trying to capture the terrorist who tries to enter the US via Mexico and the help of the drug cartel.

Maybe this sounds confusing but the story lines are told in a seamless way. The action sequences are astonishingly well done. We really get a feel for the incredible gear, techniques and tactics. More than once I was thinking “Who would want to mess with men like this?”. Not only do they have the best equipment, they are also trained for every eventuality and react amazingly quickly.

It is very important to re-emphasize the fact that the men are played by real Navy Seals. This is a great plus in the action sequences. Those men know what they are doing and it feels very realistic and is fascinating. But there are dialogue scenes as well and unfortunately they drag the movie down. They are too bad. Every time two of the main characters have one of their buddy talks it’s painful to watch. They are wooden and the way they speak sounds learned by heart and unnatural.

Despite some of the reservations mentioned before, Act of Valor is a highly watchable movie. We don’t get to see such exciting missions with so much realistic detail, different weapons and tactics very often. And it’s a valuable and interesting movie as well. It’s interesting because it shows that nowadays war doesn’t mean that one army will fight against another army, but that it is far more frequent that smaller groups of men will fight against other groups of men. A lot of the fighting takes places indoors or in smaller villages.

I can see thow many people will have a problem with a movie like this, saying it is glorifying, patriotic etc…. Maybe all of this isn’t wrong. I still think it’s not only an entertaining movie but an important movie because it offers a great basis for discussions and offers the layman a look into the job of a Navy Seal.

It seems that the individual missions in the movie are all based on real missions. There is one element that really astonished me. One act of amazingly unselfish heroism. If that is true as well…

As I said, Act of Valor has a lot in common with the French movie Special Forces. I am strongly in favour of one of the two movies and I do have my reasons for that. If you are interested to find out which one and why, make sure to read my next post.  It’s due in a day or two.