Friday, January 18, 2013

'Zero Dark Thirty': Torture, Coke & Marlboros

(Jessica Chastain as Maya, a Central Intelligence Agency analyst in "Zero Dark Thirty".)

The new Oscar-nominated film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, "Zero Dark Thirty", is playing at the Cinemark Theaters on Market Street and I caught up with it last night.

It's a dynamic procedural told in hybrid cine-journalism terms, that had me engaged from the opening moments with voices of the Twin Tower victims as fiery death approached to the gripping climax with the Navy Seals carrying out their mission at Osama bin-Laden's compound in Pakistan.

The film endorses torture and its alleged role in extracting actionable information from enemy combatants held at CIA black sites, to locate bin-Laden's courier and eventually the terrorist mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, deadly attacks.

Scenes of prisoners abuse didn't strike me as particularly graphic or difficult to watch, even though some reviews led me to believe the interrogations would be more bloody and shitty than they are. 

Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal kept me in my seat, when I needed to pee, because I wanted to know what happened next in their scenario. Top-notch cinematography that was just right with jerky hand-held cameras, and terrific editing and sound design.

The product placements of the Coke beverages, Coke Zero and Coke Classic, along with what I believe were Marlboro cigarettes, undercut the gritty cine-journalism approach to the story. (Am I imagining the distinctive red Marlboro logo on two rapid-edit scenes at the main black site?)

The prominence of a Classic Coke glass bottle on the cafeteria dining room table at CIA headquarters when James Gandolfini sits down at Jessica Chastain's table, literally put Coke and the CIA together for today's movie consumer.

How much was paid to the producers to have product placements in "Zero Dark Thirty"? Don't know, but as I read the end credits I took note of the two product placement coordinators listed, a sure sign of the import of this element in the film's creation.

Among the supporting acting standouts are Jennifer Ehle who knocked my socks off as a CDC epidemiologist in Steven Soderborg's "Contagion", and the hunky and hirsute Edgar Ramirez who ironically was so memorable as the lead in Olivier Assayas's film "Carlos", the terrorist nicknamed the Jackal.

Terrific filmmaking, terrible politics were the top take-home messages of "Zero Dark Thirty" for this viewer.

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