THE OSCARS, Part 6
IAFT’s Pete Wassell at long last concludes his overview of this year’s Best Picture nominees.
Zero Dark Thirty: I love Point Break and Near Dark, and I even sort of like Strange Days, but Hurt Locker was not one of my favorites. Kathryn Bigelow won the 2008 Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker. Now she turns in another brooding, gritty piece of story-telling, this time about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
This is not the American brouhaha I had expected. Instead, the film portrays an America almost at war with itself, one that blurs the lines of morality and paints a cold, calculating picture of what war has become.
Going into this I expected more propaganda. I assumed it would be the story of the brave Navy Seals who took down Bin Laden. What we get is a thoughtful character study that gets to the core of what’s wrong and what is just in the way we fight wars.
Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a CIA field operative called “killer” by the boys at Langley. She’s based in Pakistan alongside Jason Clarke playing Dan, a seasoned interrogator who knows the only way it’ll work is for the detainee to understand just how hopeless his situation is. This sets up a number of advance interrogation scenes conducted by Dan, with Maya looking on. The torture scenes are just that, torture, and they don’t gloss anything over. They string a guy up, leave him there, waterboard him, and lock him in a box just big enough for him to lie motionless in the fetal position. They pump his cell with loud, abrasive punk music and keep him awake for nearly 96 hours at a time. This is how we hunted Bin Laden. This is what it took, and Bigelow doesn’t look away.
The story morphs as US foreign policy shifts over a period of 8 years. Dan goes back to Washington and Maya takes over as the point person. Her interrogations work differently. The detainee is handcuffed, sitting at a table across from a burly marine. She paces back and forth asking questions, and she knows she’s being lied to. When she wants to make a point, she taps the Marine who smacks the detainee across the face. Maya knows herself, and she knows her prisoners. Though she may not strike fear in them, she knows how to get the answers she wants.
The last 30 minutes are as intense and scary as anything I’ve seen. It’s worth the price of admission. I mean, it’s honestly what you came to see. I won’t say anything more. Go see it for yourself.
Though I’m gushing a little bit over this film, it does have problems. It’s intense, but also slows down in the middle. Now that may grow on me as I re-watch it, but it sort of took me out of it during my first viewing. Also, I don’t know why Hollywood keeps casting Kyle Chandler. Straight up the guy can’t act. He cannot hold his own on the screen with Jessica Chastain, and it turns what should be an explosive scene between the two of them into Jessica Chastain yelling at a bag of sand. He might’ve been on a hit show (Early Edition) but he can’t act, please, Hollywood, enough with Kyle Chandler.
Bottom line: Shot beautifully, it’s politically engaged, and the acting is solid. Just writing that makes me think of a scene where Maya is on the phone with a friend and fellow operative. They are talking shop, but the friend also mentions a bottle of fine wine she will be serving to one of her leads she’s meeting with at Camp Chapman. Maya is watching a monitor, her face illuminated by that eerie white glow. The monitor shows the targeting system on a helicopter/airplane with infrared; you see two objects run across the screen, a missile is fired, an explosion erupts, and the objects are gone. Maya watches this, coldly saying to her friend, “Bring me a bottle back, would you?”
This to me says more about the way we fight war than anything else in the film. Governments torture people, and it’s been that way since the beginning. The paradigm shift is in the intimacy of war. War is growing less and less intimate every day. Soldiers sit in a room in Utah and pull the trigger on a drone, blowing up a building and killing blips on a screen. War is a video game, and this film shows that to you; the loss of eye-to-eye fighting frightens me more than anything else.
Jessica Chastain is good, but not great. I’m not sure why everyone’s going crazy on her, though I’m glad she was nominated. Her performance comes off a bit too dry for me, but there are moments of fragile subtlety that she pulls off extremely well.
This movie could win Best Picture. I think has a very good shot, and I would be fine with that. It’s a much better film than The Hurt Locker. With Zero Dark, Bigelow has crafted a film that tells an intimate story with giant brush strokes without losing any of the detail. If you want a story that feels true, and honest, go see this film.
★ ★ ★
Whew! Finally. That’s all 9 movies. I’m exhausted.
So where are we? All the films I saw are different shades of good, with Silver Linings Playbook the odd man out. Why? Because it just doesn’t reach any lofty point, and just when you think it’s going to, instead it only wraps itself up neatly and says “later.” Lincoln will most likely sweep. It’s Spielberg, it’s Abraham Lincoln, and the film is great, well paced, with superb performances and a tight script. I think it’s the film to beat.
However, don’t forget Argo. Everyone in Hollywood loves Ben Affleck, and the Academy has been known to surprise–remember Crash anyone?
So this year’s nominations have been erratic, even full of mistakes, but there are some good nominations as well, including supporting nods to Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro.
Whoever wins, just remember, it’s about movies, and that’s it. Does a film speak to you, and why?
If you leave a theatre touched or changed in any way, the filmmakers have done their jobs and in the end, no gold statue can take that away.