Zero Dark Thirty

zero-dark-thirty-poster1Certain phrases of military slang already exist in the lexicon; for instance, we have the popular SNAFU or FUBAR, both of which are acronyms for a state of general fucked-up-ness. (As in: Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj have really FUBAR-ed American Idol.) Now we have a new cool phrase that we can all throw around to try to look as badass as Navy Seals about to take down a terrorist—­Zero Dark Thirty. This phrase is also used in my house to describe the time in the dead of night when one of the cats dips her paw in my bedside water-glass and, after drinking her fill, successfully pushes it off the nightstand where it explodes like a bomb on the floor. We call this Zero Dark Thirsty. (rimshot!)

The film is a fascinating look at the CIA’s ten year hunt for Osama Bin Laden as experienced by an agent named Maya. According to director Kathryn Bigelow, although the story is based on first-hand events, the character is actually a composite of several different women who contributed to the search. Bigelow said in an interview that she was amazed to find out that there were more women than men on the team that followed the many leads and hunches that eventually led them to the compound in Pakistan. Maya is played by Jessica Chastain, and she struggles to remain expressionless as she observes a fellow agent torturing and waterboarding a detainee. The strength and toughness and sheer obsessiveness required to do this kind of work is mirrored in her face as the years tick by and one lead after another hits a dead-end. Even when the hunch as to where bin Laden is seems more and more certain, it still requires hours of meetings and untangling of red tape to convince her supervisors that they should act. This film is like one long day at my office.

Eventually the decision to act is given the go-ahead (with the probability of bin Laden actually being there put at “a soft 60%). The attack on the compound is eerily familiar because we have seen news footage of the actual place, and the whole event takes place in the weird greenish glow of night-vision goggles. The tension is ramped up to eleven as we follow the team of Seals into the compound and around each blind corner, with one soldier (Chris Pratt from Parks and Rec) whispering “Usama” like he’s playing a creepy game of hide and seek. I thought it was odd that there were no guards or movement inside the grounds as the soldiers entered, because the element of surprise was kind of lost when they crashed a freakin’ helicopter in the front yard.

The film is remarkable because it shows that wars are not just fought with weapons but with the dedication and intuitiveness of people up to their ears in paperwork and leads that go nowhere and hunches that literally blow up in their faces. There has been some chatter that the Oscar snub against director Bigelow (no nomination for Best Director) is because the film endorses torture, but I think that is ridiculous. It shows the methods used but it’s not like it’s encouraging people to try it at home.

The nomination should have been there, because it’s really tough to take a film that takes place mostly behind desks and computers and turn it into a tension-filled action thriller.

Barf Bag Rating: ZERO BAGS

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