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Monday, November 10, 2014

I Finally Watched "Zero Dark Thirty"

Link: Review of Zero Dark Thirty

It took some time before I decided I was ready to watch "Zero Dark Thirty", Kathryn Bigelow's expensive, haunting attempt at a non-fiction portrayal of the search for Osama bin Laden and the raid that ended his life.  As a rule, I do not watch films about espionage (except James Bond. . . "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" still the best), especially the cotton-candy Mission Impossible or the Jason Bourne stuff.  However, if you enjoy fictional espionage writing, my friend and former colleague Joe Goldberg has a book coming out soon: Secret Wars - An Espionage Story.  It's more in the form of historical fiction and it is
Soon to be released book by
 Joe Goldberg  Twitter @jgoldhawk1 
sensational.  I've just finished it and a further review will come later. All I can say for now is keep your eyes peeled for it when it is published.   As for Zero Dark Thirty, I was a bit hesitant to watch it because of the issue of "enhanced interrogation techniques".  The movie graphically illustrates at least one particularly high profile procedure.  It should come as no surprise to anyone who has been reading my blog that I wholly support enhanced interrogation techniques.  Yes, I have seen them used.  In fact, every time that I have been aware that "enhanced interrogation techniques" (why don't I just say "waterboarding"?) were used, information was obtained that led to the capture of murderers and the saving of lives.  Now I may be a lot of things (Conservative, Vegetarian, observant Catholic, animal rights activist, Dallas Cowboys fan), but one thing I am not is a liar.  These techniques work to save lives.  I was concerned that any portrayal on the big screen would come off badly.  Actually, Bigelow did a fairly accurate job.  Unfortunately, it was all for show.  Its my understanding that waterboarding played no role whatsoever in the discovery of bin Laden's Abbottabad summer house.  So why purposely include waterboarding in the film?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Let me get my complaints out of the way first.  The character, Maya, is a complete mystery
to me.  I realize that a number of Seals have gone on record as saying that she did exist.  Well, I worked with Seal Team Six about five years before Abbottabad (I have no idea what the turnover/replacement timetable is for Navy Seals), and I would never accuse any of these guys of lying.  I loved working with them, I loved hanging out with them; I loved them period.  Members of the Navy Seals and U.S. Army Special Forces have a special place in the psyche of most American men.  At one time or another, we all wanted to be a Green Beret, or a Seal.  Being with the Seals was like spending time with your favorite sports stars or most admired actors.  They were down to earth, kind and considerate.  And funny as hell.  True, they live in a world that is almost all testosterone, and the jokes and hi-jinx were usually a part of the show.  But if a female Agency officer was present, they were, without exception, total gentlemen. And when it comes to their job, you WILL NOT meet a more dedicated group of men.  They are patient, well-read, and do not skip over the boring parts.  Too watch them at work is a bit like watching a Ballet.  They move as different parts of the same creature, and I have no doubt that communication takes place without words or signs.  They know each other that well.  So if the Seals say that Maya existed, then she did.  But I will take exception to the environment in which Maya functioned.  I guarantee you she was NOT the only Agency person on hand at the airbase before the lift-off for the raid.  And she was not the only Agency representative to view the body and make a positive I.D.  The Agency is much more thorough than that.  No doubt she saw the body; I would want to see it as well, to dispel the demon nightmares I still have from September 11, 2001.  But the movie created a character that worked seemingly alone in her own little world. "This job is the only job I've ever had" at the CIA.  I have a problem with that statement as well.  The CIA would not let someone with no track record and no relationships with other offices handle this sensitive and high-profile a case.  For most of the movie, she seemed to be following her chief around, writing numbers on his office window.  Is Maya a DI Intelligence Analyst (most Intelligence Analysts work in the DI)?  If so, then she certainly would not have been walking around the DO, saying mother fucker to the DCI.  I'm hoping she was a CTC Analyst, because they are second to none in professionalism and knowledge.  To summarize, the character was, at times, a bit of a caricature.  Possibly she was a combination of more than one person.  But let's get one thing clear.  No one, NO ONE short of the DCI, gets a plane to themselves, with a pilot who asks, "Where do you want to go?"

Overall, I loved the film.  It was beautifully shot and exceptionally researched.  The acting was first-rate, especially Jessica Chastain, James Gandolfini as Leon Panetta, and the guys playing the Navy Seals.  It certainly had the look of reality.  The filming of the raid was so well done.  I did notice that the Seals on screen made a bit too much noise during the operation, but the taking of the compound, from the outer walls to the inner sanctum, had me sitting on the edge of my seat.  The scenes inside the main building were probably reconstructed as close as possible to the real deal.   The ending was totally in snyc with the speed and temperament of the entire film.  I loved this movie, although I don't think I will watch it again.  The events leading up to that particular day, and the death of Osama bin Laden, are large part of the historic diorama of my generation.  It was important to spend the resources and time to track down bin Laden and take his life: as part of the obligation we have to those who suffered and died, that we will never forget.  This movie reminds me of the huge debt of gratitude that I owe to the Navy Seals, Green Berets, Air Force Special Ops, CIA Ground Branch, and all the men and women of our Armed Forces and National Guard.  We can never repay them in kind for their sacrifice and dedication, but we can try.  When you see that person in uniform, at the H.E.B., or Target, or Walmart, picking up a few groceries before heading home, please take a few seconds to thank them for their service and their sacrifice.  Truly, it is the least that we can do.

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