Santa Cruz Good Times

Wednesday
Apr 16th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Dark Knights

film darkCowboy mentality mars intense military procedural 'Zero Dark Thirty'

How much torture should we, the people, condone by our government in pursuit of political ends? That's the implicit question at the core of Kathryn Bigelow's highly-touted Zero Dark Thirty, an exhaustive drama about the CIA's 10-year hunt for al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. But a more pertinent question might by how much torture should we, the audience, endure onscreen in the name of entertainment?


Zero Dark Thirty is not a documentary. Although based on highly classified and sensitive CIA documents, it's been packaged as a slick piece of storytelling for public consumption. Bigelow and her longtime screenwriting partner, Mark Boal, make conscious dramatic choices throughout on how they're going to present the material. Which means the first third of the film caroms back and forth between various "black sites" in Pakistan and Afghanistan, "undisclosed locations" where detainees are tortured for information in the wake of the 9-11 attacks on the U.S.


One prisoner in particular is waterboarded, walked like a dog on all fours, stripped from the waist down, and shut up in a small wooden box. His tormentor, a CIA op named Dan (Jason Clarke), is portrayed as a pretty nice guy off-site; he keeps pet monkeys, worries about what the job is doing to his psyche, and befriends the new girl on the team, Maya (Jessica Chastain). Bigelow and Boal stick to a fairly straightforward military procedural format for their narrative, but what emotional story arc there is involves Maya overcoming her initial revulsion to become more "guy" than the guys, inuring herself to the horrifying reality of torture to get what she wants—Osama bin Laden.


The filmmakers have said their film is not pro-torture, that they're just reporting the facts as told to them in "first-hand accounts of actual events." Meanwhile, the film races around the globe, showing al-Qaida terrorist bombings from Saudi Arabia to London to Islamabad, where the public carnage is meant to justify the means at those CIA-operated black sites.


But it's interesting to note how little information is actually obtained from torture. One breakthrough comes during a normal conversation after Maya's team has tricked a torture victim into believing he's already revealed something. Another key item—a dossier on a prime suspect—surfaces after a couple of years of misplacement due to "human error" in the department. In this respect, the film might almost serve as a subtle cautionary tale against the use of torture for political results—if not for all the cowboy posturing that dominates the second half of the film.


We can't know how much of the dialogue (if any) is taken from actual transcripts, but corny action movie clichés pop up all too often. It's pretty lame when Maya's fed-up supervisor (the always reliable Mark Strong) yells at his team to "Do your fuckin' jobs and bring me people to kill!" When some of her closest colleagues perish in a suicide bombing, and Maya vows to "smoke everyone involved in this op," you can just imagine a Hollywood voice-over intoning, "This time—it's personal." When Maya introduces herself to the visiting CIA director (a bespectacled, rather elfin James Gandolfini), saying, "I'm the motherfucker who found him (Bin Laden)," we think this woman has been watching too many Bruce Willis movies.


The midnight Navy SEAL assault on Bin Laden's secret Pakistani fortress that concludes the film is pretty standard action movie fare. (It's not exactly a stealth mission, since one of the two helicopters promptly crash-lands in the courtyard.) On the way to the attack, the National Security Advisor back in DC is portrayed as some sort of obstructionist for asking for visual or audio proof, not just circumstantial evidence, that their target really is Bin Laden. And as a dozen guys in flak jackets and infrared goggles shoot their way into a compound full of women and children, we can't help but think of all the reported incidents from Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade where the U.S. forces were not, in fact, raiding the correct household, killing innocent bystanders.


Zero Dark Thirty is difficult to watch, at times, but at least it offers a window into what kind of skullduggery our government is perpetrating worldwide in our name.  

ZERO DARK THIRTY


★★1/2 (out of four)


With Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, and James Gandolfini. Written by Mark Boal. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. A Columbia release. Rated R.
157 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Aries Solar Festival

Sunday is Palm Sunday. Symbolizing victory and triumph, paradise, sacrifice and martyrdom, the Pisces World Teacher entered Jerusalem (City of Peace) on a donkey (signifying humility).

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Animal Magnetism

Bear, mouse dare to be friends in charming ‘Ernest and Celestine’ It’s not exactly Romeo and Juliet. It’s not even a romance, although it is a love story about two individuals separated by prejudice who find the courage to form an unshakable bond despite the rules and traditions that keep them apart.

 

Printer's Devil

Iconic editor Buz Bezore, who died last month at the age of 68, left a huge mark on Santa Cruz journalism   Eventually, it’s all a blur. You live long enough, and maybe a little too hard at times, so that when you hit the rewind button of faded memory, it moves so fast that you can hardly sort and gather the details. One scene skips to the next, and to the next, without proper editing or sequencing. Chronologies get distorted. Which came first: stealing the chickens or coloring the eggs?
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

Latest Comments

 

Foodie File: Yan Flower

Yan Belleville has owned Yan Flower, an affordable Chinese restaurant in Downtown Santa Cruz, with her husband Raymond for eight years, and it’s a family affair. Her brother, sister, sister-in-law, and cousins work there too. Locals know the joint for its massive lunch specials starting at $4.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Comanche Cellars

Pinot Noir 2010 I first tasted Comanche Cellars Pinot when a friend brought a bottle to share over lunch at Center Street Grill in Santa Cruz. Upon trying it, I knew I had to find out more about it.