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We Already Know “Zero Dark Thirty’s” Evil, But Is It Any Good?

by UNCLE RAY BIRNEY

Okay movie fans, you’ve all heard about Zero Dark Thirty’s blasé attitude toward torture, blah, blah, blah, but what the hell?  Enough already, with the depressing shit—let’s talk about what you GET when you buy your ticket and a box of popcorn.

Well, first of all, you get Osama.  The Bin Man!  20,000 watts of the old Bin Laden Star Power.  This guy doesn’t even have to show up, and you already got the premise for a pretty crazy Man Hunt.  Forget The Joker, forget Doctor Octopus, forget the wacko in Skyfall!!!  Osama’s the Mama of All Super Villains.

Watching the Bin-ster read the Kor’an gave you chills, right?  Fuckin’ A.  The dude could read the Manhattan White Pages and make you shit your pants.  Somebody tell Freddy Kruger to put his finger-slashers in his pockets and slink outta here—America’s “Mister Nightmare on Canal Street” just became the Star of his own picture.  So let “The Greatest Manhunt in History” begin!  How’re you going to tell the final chapter of Osama story?

Well, right off the bat, you buy a few selected 9/11 emergency calls to the Nine-One-One operators—calls made by the poor victims in those towering infernos.  You open your picture by playing those calls—over what?  You play them over a fucking BLACK screen!

The screen is black so that you can HEAR them better! And when you hear them, it takes you back.  Back, back, maybe eleven years, to THAT DAY.  Your guts start wriggling around in your stomach and your blood starts pumping in your neck and your head.  People are screaming for their lives, burning up.  This is REAL reality show stuff.

Then, the phones go dead.  The 911 operator says, “Is anybody there?”  No answer!  Silence. The Horror of that day!  How will we EVER get over it?  Talk about PTSD.  Okay, fuck it!  We’re gonna get the Monster that did this, and we’re gonna blow his Muslim ass all the way to the Muslim Kingdom Come!

That is, if we can FIND the fucker.  He is so fucking evil and so fucking cunning, we’re gonna have to pull some serious strings to figure out where his hidey-hole is.  So, okay, black screen is over.  Next, we see an Arab-looking dude strung up with some serious looking ropes tied around his wrist bones, and blood and lumps on his face. Good!  Let him suffer!  Motherfucking Arab, probably knows where the fucking Arab Potentate Godfather “Binny” is hiding out!  Go, C-I-A!  Kick his fucking ass, make him squeal!

We’d all have to agree:  This movie is off to a flying start.  It’s really moving.  And we’re only into, like, three minutes of it!

So, okay, spoiler alert!  Now, some boring shit is about to happen.  They torture the guy, he doesn’t talk; they torture him some more, he doesn’t talk.  It gets a little repetitious, if you know what I mean, UNLESS you’re into that pain-inflicting thing.

But never fear, the picture has another thing going for it—Jessica Fucking Chastain. Hottest Babe of 2012, maybe of 2013 as well.  SO hot, she made so-called “Professional” Film Critics cream their pants.  Just HOW hot is Chastain?  Hot enough to make these jaded old dudes get wood again.

Here’s Kenneth Turan, film critic of the Los Angeles Times, no less.  He tells you this: The big-deal attack on Bin Laden’s compound AND all the hoo-hah about torture are (and I quote) “both overshadowed by the performance of Jessica Chastain.  She [Chastain’s character, Maya] is a force among forces, and Chastain makes her frankly thrilling to behold.”  Chastain is not only Kenneth’s Playmate of the Year, she could be Playmate of His Career, “thrilling to behold”

Another geezer critic who dotes on Chastain is David Denby, of The New Yorker .  His horny praises are so moving, I have to quote him in a poetical form (word-for-word, I swear):

“There is someone else

At that interrogation session:

An observer,

Who wears a black hood

And removes it

To shake out

A glorious curtain

Of reddish-gold hair.”

“A glorious curtain!”  “Frankly thrilling to Behold!” And these guys are licensed Critics.

So far, then, the picture has two predominant advantages—Jessica and Osama.  Beauty and the Beast.  (And all those torture scenes, for your sado-masochistic friends.)

But is that enough to keep you sitting and eating your popcorn???  Let’s see.  After Maya and her teacher Dan torture the Arab guy, they go to the dark, dusty CIA office in Wherever-abad.  Now the picture starts to bog down again.  You get a lot of bullshit office politics, uptight CIA bureaucrats with no balls, but with the power to fuck Chastain over.  They don’t even seem to get that she is the hottest fucking White Woman in all of Kissmybuttistan.

So here you got male-pig office politics dragging down the pace of the chase.  Then Chastain starts staring at torture videos.  And you know these videos are “real” because they’re super-fuzzy.  So: Office politics, torture videos, more office politics, more torture videos. Then, a terrorist attack they didn’t see coming, and more office politics (with more pressure—we gotta get those Terrorists before they strike again!) and more torture videos.  The only thing worth watching is Chastain watching videos.

Finally, they catch a Big Fish, named Faraj.  Now it’s Chastain’s turn.  She gets to torture a guy all by herself, “One-on-one, with Faraj,” her boss says.  And this is where you, sadly, begin to wonder if this All-American Beauty has any heavy-duty acting chops.  (I LOVED her in “The Help,” but that was cute, funny light-weight stuff.)  She has Faraj beaten up; she has Faraj water-boarded; she even has her torture-flunkies pour a thick brown stuff into a funnel that they stick down his throat.  Eeeeeeew!

But Faraj is tough; he doesn’t squeal.  So she uses more and more “measures” on him (but not on camera, sorry).  She tells her mentor Dan that, “Faraj is still withholding, and that’s using every measure we have.”  Finally she tortures him so bad, and so non-stop, that he dies of it.  We know this because one of the women in the office says, casually, like she’s giving Chastain fashion tips, “So Faraj went south on you.  It happens.”

And this is where, in spite of that glorious curtain of reddish-gold hair, and the perfect profile and the creamy spotless skin, Chastain is in WAY over her head.

It takes a certain kind of woman—a certain kind of person—to do what she (Maya/Chastain) does.  Which is cold-blooded murder of the most hideous kind, murder by torture.  The kind of person we’re talking about here is vicious, tough, cold, fanatical, ruthless and merciless.  Charlise Theron could go that deep, Halle Berry could; but not Jessica Chastain.

After Chastain-as-Maya commits these heinous crimes, nothing changes.  You don’t see it in her face, her attitude, the way she carries herself—nowhere.  She just keeps truckin’ along, on that tricky trail of clues leading to the Trophy of All Trophies—Bin Laden in a body bag.  Chastain’s idea of playing this demented CIA ghoul is to act like a college girl pulling all-nighters at final exam time.  By God, she is going to get straight fucking “A”s, even if she has to skip her daily shampoo and tooth whitener.

Don’t get me wrong.  Chastain is still beautiful—too beautiful, if you wanna know the truth—as the picture staggers along to the Big Shoot-out.  But now it feels weird.  We’re supposed to root, root, root for the home team and Maya, the under-rated short-stop.  But something’s off.

You schlubs never read Picture of Dorian Grey, am I right?  It’s a novel about a handsome young dude who does a lot of sick shit—gets down with depravity; messes people up, so they wanna kill themselves; drinks, does drugs and generally wastes himself—and still comes across as a handsome young dude!  Meanwhile, up in his attic, he keeps a painting of himself that gets uglier and creepier and more disgusting with every evil deed he does.

Well, I wanna ask the director of this picture (Katherine Bigelow), Where is the secret “Picture of Jessica Chastain” that should be getting uglier and creepier, with every evil, torturing deed she does?  Why don’t we see the Chastain whose soul is crawling with maggots???

Okay, maybe I’m nit-picking.  We should move on.  Fine.  Only moving on doesn’t move fast enough.  There’s more desk-top gumshoe “detective” work.  Bullshit, bullshit, they find a picture of the errand boy that was lying in a CIA file somewhere, for only eight years, bullshit, bullshit, they follow the guy in the picture until he leads them to Mecca, the Holy Grail, the Wailing Wall of great detective movie “finds” of the Century!  Osama Bin Bama’s home address!!!

Send in the SEALs, right???  Bang-bang, bing-bang.  Wrap it up, roll the credits, right?

Oops, sorry, but you can’t punch out quite yet—not until we give you another blood-pounding hour of bureaucratic bullshit.  Are you sure UBL is there?  (The “U” is for “Usama,” which the uptight CIA refuses to call him anything but.)  Are you REALLY sure?  Well, we can’t torture anybody anymore, so we can’t REALLY be sure, but the Redhead says SHE’s sure.  Blah, blah, blah, yak, yak, yak around the conference table.

Finally, the Director tells the President it LOOKS like UBL is REALLY there, so

unleash the SEALs!  Takes about another half hour for the SEALs to get warmed up and then—uh-oh.  Remember when it ACTUALLY went down, when it REALLY went down on CNN and CBS and NBC and MSNBC?  The real deal was two choppers full of the most pumped-up, most weaponized adrenaline-heads, with night-vision apps up their butts VERSUS what?  A tiny fraction of UBL’s Extended Family!

The real deal was like this: A full platoon of CRIPs and a full platoon of BLOODs with 30-round magazines in their assault rifles, unite together and bravely knock over a family candy store in Koreatown, Los Angeles, US of A.

And that’s the fucking climax of Zero Dark Thirty.

So how does Bigelow make you feel like all your waiting was not in vain.  Well, first of all, she shoots everything all green and very fuzzy, like you’re seeing everything through the SEALs’ night vision goggles.  Sometimes she even makes the screen go black, so “realistic,” like the goggles fritz out and the poor SEAL is as blind as all the people living in the big house.  Black screen—SEALs whispering to each other—scary stuff very SUSPENSEFUL, so you won’t remember this was the easiest job any SEAL Team ever pulled since they first crawled up on shore, what—fifty years ago?

This is one hundred and fifty-seven minutes of your time.  And what would this picture be, without Osama, without the high-wattage charisma of The Man in “The Greatest Manhunt in History”?  Without “UBL,” you got three average-quality episodes of “Cold Case!”  If you cut out all the digital gumshoe garbage, you got one better than-average episode.  I’m telling you, the fucking Emperor is strutting around without a stitch on his fucking carcass!

And you blew $10 on this.  Maybe more.  Know who gets the Last Laff?  You guessed it—ol’ Ozzy Bin Lozzy.  Fucker transformed America like no politician or CEO could ever have done—turned it into one big Chicken Shack, ruled over by Giant Mutant Foxes.  I swear he’s cackling in his watery grave.

[NOTE:  “Uncle Ray Birney” is a pseudonym.  Uncle Ray is an authority on any and all spectator sports, including the movies. He provides wisdom and erudition to his drinking buddies and to his and his wife’s extended families.  A veteran security guard, he has plenty of time to read and a license to carry a concealed firearm.]

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