To consider what director Kathryn Bigelow has accomplished in
Not to take anything away from that rousing true (-ish) story of hostages freed and rights wronged and, in every sense, Hollywood triumphant. But think about it. If
In "Zero Dark Thirty," the key American film of 2012, now going into wider release, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal — the pair behind
The raid on bin Laden's compound, much of it filmed through an approximation of night-vision goggles, necessarily sidelines the film's main character,
The prologue begins in darkness, and then fades into panicked voices. In a brilliant sound collage of telephone conversations back and forth from those trapped in the World Trade Center towers, the horror of that morning comes rushing back. Then, quickly, we're in Pakistan. Maya is the new kid in town, learning enhanced interrogation techniques (torture by any other name) and other tricks of the trade from her fellow CIA operative, played by
We know little of Maya's past, just as we knew little of the bomb detonation expert played by Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker." Bigelow and Boal are interested in the present tense, and experiences rather than explanations. As a tough, old-school CIA operative, the marvelous
Bigelow casts all sorts of solid and familiar actors in all sorts of roles, including Kyle Chandler as the CIA's Islamabad overseer, trying to decide which of his employees' hunches to take most seriously. The Navy SEALs who enter the action in the final round are played by, among others,
The naturalistic style of the picture owes a lot to the Olivier Assayas terrorist film "Carlos," and the actor who played the title character in that picture,
Events depicted in the film, notably the waterboarding, have been debated from every side, both for their factual accuracy (not that anyone's complaining about the hogwash content in "Argo") and their political implications. I assure you: Although "Zero Dark Thirty" ends with the sight of a (metaphorical) bloodstained flag behind its elusive protagonist, its stance is extremely tricky. It's not a documentary. It's not a load of revenge nonsense. It's not "24." I'm still arguing with myself over parts of it.
And that's a sign that a movie will endure.