Saturday, February 2, 2013

3 companion pieces with Zero Dark Thirty

I've haven't been doing a lot of reviews since I graduated from high school and so far I have written two reviews for two movies. So with this in mind, let's talk about Kathryn Bigelow's anticipated awards contender Zero Dark Thirty depicting the CIA's decade long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. So here are my quick thoughts:
This is an extraordinary piece of film making by condensing ten years of information finding the most wanted terrorist responsible for the US occupying parts of the Middle East and the September 11 attacks into 157 spectacular minutes of entertainment. While some people may have many problems of the characterization of each character in that film, particularly Jessica Chastain's Maya, the architect behind the manhunt, I thought all of them (whether it'd be Jason Clarke, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler, etc.) have served their purpose very well. Unsuprisingly Chastain's performance is brilliantly played out in which is an obsessive, mind-focused and alienated agent working out several measures to capture Osama Bin Laden. The film goes into three different acts - FIRST: Torture/interrogation; SECOND: Bureaucracy and THIRD: The (spoiler) death of Osama himself. Bigelow lays a high amount of moral ambiguity and a immense attention to detail on how the CIA operates alongside Mark Boal's screenplay, both of which is framed properly without being political or patriotic. On a technical side, it is grand. The cinematography is incredibly gorgeous and the sound mixing is excellent. And the final act is incredibly gripping with the final shot of Jessica Chastain maintaining the moral implications of capturing the guy.

Overall... excellent movie.

But in here, let's talk double features. I always imagine what would happen if you make one movie go head with head or head to head in the same movie theatre and if I managed or owned one, I would wnat to do that. In this feature, I look at three possible movies with a range of similarities with ZD30 and how they could become its double feature.

Before ZD30 was out and got the critical attention from everyone of each corner of the film community, Argo came out in September with a similar reception, proving that Ben Affleck still has a spot in Hollywood as one of the most prolific filmmakers working in Hollywood after his big break with Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Affleck presents in the film the Canadian Caper, a rescue of six Canadian diplomats during the Iranian Hostage Crisis from 1979 to 1981 in which he stars as Tony Mendez, a CIA agent willing to save them through two Hollywood producers by developing a fake film in which the hostages are meant to be involved.

I think a lot of people will prefer this over ZD30 for many reasons and I can understand that. One is that while ZD30 still play for thrills, Argo sticks with it 100% of the time. Given that it's studio produced, it is set up as your normal popcorn flick which tells history solely for the sake of entertainment. It didn't really threatened the realism Affleck aimed for, but it might have affected the pacing of what is overall a heist flick.

Obviously ZD30 and Argo both follow the operations of the CIA that is solely lead by an underdog agent, both of which became successful. While Tony Mendez is characterised as a man who wants to spend time with his son after the mission, Maya meanwhile serves her functions as an obsessive, hands-off, i'm-getting-to-the-bottom-of-this person that Chastain wonderfully portrays. If ZD30 was about CIA operatives in theory, then Argo would primarily be the CIA operatives in practice.

ZD30 and Zodiac shares similar motivations of the protagonist and similarities in story. IN the latter, Jake Gyllenhal plays a political cartoonist Robert Graysmith who was searching for the notorious Zodiac killer who had spent almost three decades killing innocent people while scaring and playing tricks on the LAPD, and the main media outlets including the San Fransisco Chronicle to which Graysmith and Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr, bringing an understated performance here). Graysmith becomes involved with the mystery neglecting much of his family and spending more than five years to find the truth about the Zodiac and the letters he left around.

It's the same with Maya except there's no background behind her other than a slim take on her social life in which her only friend was a female CIA agent. While in Zodiac, part of Graysmith's character arc is around his family including his marriage with Chloe Sevingny. While we see the terrorists shooting and going into suicide missions, the Zodiac does his thing by chillingly killing his victims.

Both movies extend their storytelling within a procedural with their visual eye; directors Kathryn Bigelow and David Fincher put into further detail on the investigation without going to any agenda despite leaving much moral ambiguity within. Did I mention that both movies have beautiful choice of cinematography.

The Silence of the Lambs

This is an appropriate companion film with ZD30 because Maya shares many traits with Jodie Foster's character Clarice as a person of interrogation. But Clarice contains more patience regardless of how scary the person she talks to, in this case Hannibal Lector. Maya is dominant to the people she's talking to, whether it's a CIA agent or a tortured person. In both cases, the two women interrogates with potential suspects who may be lead-ins to the manhunts of the most atrocious criminals; Buffalo Bill and Osama Bin Laden.

The point is that both movies have strong female characters, in which most films produced by studios rarely present onscreen. Maya and Clarice's only function is to do their job within the CIA or the FBI. While the latter may have some depth, there is a lot of ambivalence within their character arc that is fully fleshed. But what they do is become a leader in a command that has been run by men. It may not be interesting for most female audiences and it might have not achieved full empowerment for both women, but in an era where we currently have fewer than ten world leaders of the opposite gender and the only significance of their power is that while not taking any action for their country, not to mention the inequality of females in the workforce, blah blah blah, feminism..., Maya and Clarice acts as a role model for all women. And this is where ZD30 and Silence of the Lambs are both appropriate watching back to back.

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