Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2013)

What's it about? Following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) is transferred to Pakistan to help gather intelligence on al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Over the next decade, key events in the intelligence operation are dramatized as she becomes obsessed with chasing an obscure lead which will ultimately culminate in the famous covert operation in Abbottabad. Based on real events, in case you hadn't guessed.

Is it any good? Yes, it is, although it is a film to admire, rather than love. In a covert operation of my own, I brought together a CIA operative and a Taliban fighter in a Blind Date type scenario and sent them off to watch the film, all the while secretly recording their reactions. The following conversation sums up my feelings on the film

CIA: Yeah, man! That was good stuff! Exciting, tense, authentic. Fuck, yeah!
Taliban: You arrogant American pig-dog, it was militaristic US propaganda. Like Homeland, only with less fanny-wiping and cry-faces
CIA: What??!! Homeland was fiction, bro! This really happened!
Taliban: No, it was based on ‘first-hand accounts’. Makes a difference if those hands were on the Bible or the Qu'ran in telling their accounts
CIA: Ye cheeky sandy fecker. I’m pretty sure this was the way it went down and it did a pretty good job of depicting what 21st century spying and intel is like.
Taliban: Yes, this is true, my jingoistic friend, even if the plotting was rather simplified for consumption. But tell me this, did you actually care about anybody in the film?
CIA: Well, not really. It was pretty cold and dispassionate, to be honest, more concerned with the technical stuff than the emotional side. And that Maya character was actually quite annoying. But surely that is the point - no-one in this was meant to be sympathetic?
Taliban: Perhaps you are right, my sweaty, obese friend. I will concede I was pleased it contained much less flag-waving and triumphalism than I might have expected from an American film. In fact, it was fairly downbeat overall. And Maya pissed me off a bit too, despite the fine work of Chastain in the role. I’d hate to meet the real-life version – she must be a right ball-buster.
CIA: Speaking of ball-busters, did you know this was directed by a woman?
Taliban: You’re kidding me?! Wouldn’t happen in my country.
CIA: Āmīn to that, bro. Maybe we should get another opinion on it. What about that guy who has been eavesdropping on us?
Taliban: Yeah, he's a pretty terrible spy. Doesn’t look like he’ll talk, though.
CIA: Let’s torture him! I've heard that gets results.
Taliban: Okey-doke. I’ll get the water, you get the Barney the Dinosaur music.

CIA: Now you're talking. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship... 

I don't trust you. What do others think? Oh, this one's got a lot of people hot under the collar, managing to piss off both the right-wingers and left-wingers in the US, the former group incensed that the film depicts torture, which they claim didn't happen, the latter claiming the film endorses torture. On top of that, there were bitchy allegations that the film was encouraged by certain powers in the Obama administration, in an effort to help boost the re-election campaign, whilst others have dismissed the whole thing as factually inaccurate. And, of course, some people fret about the really important issue, which is that this damn woman has the temerity to keep on making macho films. An increasingly irate Bigelow has been forced to defend herself and the film at every turn, when in fact she should just say "Watch the film. Make your own mind up. Stop torturing me about it". For further reading, here's an attack on the film and its morality, a defence of the film by Michael Moore and the view from Pakistan about it all. 

What does the Fonz think? So waterboarding is just like surfboarding, right?

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