Film Review: “Zero Dark Thirty” (2013)

The long awaited pageant of obsession, meticulousness, intrigue, suspense and ultimately, vengeance.

The vengeance portion is actually only a small part of the intricate and involuted plot, revolving round Maya, a very Carrie Mathison-like persona from “Homeland”. The similarities are striking and probably indicative of a new breed of CIA intelligence analysts, probably female and certainly consumed with the tedious ask of neutralizing dangerous people in the world. The CIA recruiter knew what he or she was looking for. Maya was recruited out of high school.

The film starts by a rather cold and graphic depiction of the kind of torture politicians deny. This coercion yields small bits and pieces of information, or even lack thereof that when correlated over the long haul yields connections with otherwise undetectable villains.

In real life, it’s unclear whether physical coercion is very effective. The Vietnam experience suggested physical coercion didn’t yield much useful information, as few of the captureable players knew much about centralized strategic decisions.  The current Middle East situation may be different as the whole point is getting to the central decision makers. These players do know centralized strategy this film suggests their giving it up directly led to the death of Bin Laden, who had escaped detection for 10 years.

The film also vividly points out the value of the new breed of straight up warriors, mechanized extensions of the “007” ethos. Extensively trained and single-minded pursuers of the completion of a mission. These are different guys that were sent out in 1980 in the failed “Eagle Claw” mission to rescue the Tehran hostages. These are the same guys that in 2009 accurately sniped three Somali pirates floating in a boat at night, rescuing Captain Richard Phillips.

The entire film is masterfully directed by Kathryn Bigelow  (The Hurt Locker, 2008). The cinematography is immaculate and vivid. The progression of events is smooth without lapses or diversions. The actors are incomparable.  In my opinion, Jessica Chastain should win the Academy Award for best actress in a dramatic role. “Lincoln” will take the rest of them.

Best part:  The meticulous military precision of the raid and the vision shown the audience through night vision goggles.

Not so best part:  The portions of the film leading up to the raid is just a little long.

Character you’ve seen before:  Look for the Damon Pope character out of Sons of Anarchy.

I give this film four and a half of five water boards.  Will do well in the Academy Awards.

Must see.




Like any other film, I call it fiction unless it’s billed as a straight up biography or history. I’m not sure I see much if any manipulative political intent in this film. If any, I think it shows that “intelligence” and meticulous gathering and interpretation of information by obsessed, single minded anylists “John LeCarre” style brings home the bacon. That’s not political. The undisputed reality is that we sometimes, not always, use “enhanced interviews” to get that information. Sometimes it doesn’t yield anything. Sometimes it adds to a body of information that gets results. Without that body of information, it would be virtually impossible to find some of these monsters and take them out of the loop. I think the film doesn’t try to say anything else political. I enjoyed the film as fiction and didn’t try to read anythign more into it. It’s a brilliant film.

There are many, many bits of info from many sources that mean nothing until they’re put into perspective. That’s where the obsessed, tireless analysts come in. Just like Carrie on “Homeland”. Were it not for her, no one would have ever suspected Brody. We are in a war with totally committed opponents who vow to destroy out civilization if it takes 100 years and they are willing to die to do it. We’ll still probably be fighting this war 100 years from now if there’s anything left of the world. They’re like “The Terminator”: “Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead”. Should we do whatever it takes in this kind of war maintain an advantage or should we insist on Marquis of Queensbury rules and only win if we win as nice guys?

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