Zero Dark Thirty

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



27 December



Benazir Bhutto assassinated, 2007

On this day in 2007, Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and a former Prime Minister of Pakistan, died in a bomb attack at a political rally in Rawalpindi. She was campaigning in the upcoming general election. A glamorous figure in Pakistani politics, she was the daughter of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and had been elected Prime Minister at the age of 35, in 1989, the first woman to lead a Muslim country. Though because of the presidential system, Bhutto was constantly in a struggle for executive power with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who eventually dismissed her government. She was elected again in 1993, survived a coup d’état by renegade military officers in 1995, only to be dismissed again by the president (now Farooq Leghari) in 1996, on the grounds of corruption. She had returned only in 2007 after a period of self-exile, after coming to an understanding with President Pervez Musharraf that the corruption charges against her would be dropped. She arrived back in Pakistan on 18 October and there was an immediate attempt on her life, by a suicide bomber who killed 136 people and injured 450. On 8 December three gunmen attacked Bhutto’s office and killed three of her supporters. On 27 December, while standing up through the sunroof of her bulletproof car to wave to crowds after leaving a political rally, she was shot by a gunman and at the same time explosives were detonated. She died shortly afterwards, most likely as a result of head trauma caused by the blast. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility, though the Bhutto family has always maintained that Musharraf was aware of an impending attack by the Taliban but failed to pass on this knowledge to Bhutto’s protectors.




Zero Dark Thirty (2012, dir: Kathryn Bigelow)

“A lot of my friends have died trying to do this; I believe I was spared so I could finish the job.” The key line of dialogue spoken by Jessica Chastain around halfway through Kathryn Bigelow’s long film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden contains the film’s key word – spared. It’s biblical, from the account of the Passover. In the character of Pakistan-based CIA operative Maya (Chastain) – who believes Bin Laden is probably hiding in Pakistan in plain sight – we have the obsessive on the hunt for the fanatic, the leader of a one-woman holy war, a crusader against a jihadist. If screenplay writer Mark Boal is suggesting that the West too has become fanatical in its insistence on spreading its values around the world, he’s saying it by the mere existence of Maya. Look for any more critical political perspective and you’ll have to work for it – whether the use of torture is justified, ethically and practically, is introduced as an idea, then dropped fairly quickly, for example. These odd fleeting moments apart, Zero Dark Thirty isn’t a film of nuance – the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad and that’s the end of it. Though it looks like a spy procedural – director Kathryn Bigelow has fully digested the lessons learned from the Bourne films – it is in fact a war movie. Context, history, realpolitik, they’re all pretty much absent, much as they were in Bigelow’s Iraq movie, The Hurt Locker, which also focused on the guys fighting the war rather than the war itself. Which is not to say it isn’t impressive – in the way it slowly and carefully introduces key players (in particular a brilliantly authoritative Jennifer Ehle – who’d have thought she was once Mr Darcy’s prim English love object in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice), in the way that it establishes story arcs that run for the decade it covers, from Maya’s first introduction and her bratty assessment of the situation – “Pakistan’s kinda fucked up” – to her increasing obsession with finding Bin Laden and her loss of comrades on the way. And finally, as we enter the home strait – showtime – we realise we have been carefully introduced to the Navy Seals who are eventually going to infiltrate Bin Laden’s compound at night, shooting as they go, in an extended 25 minute sequence which is impressive not only because it makes you catch your breath for the duration, but because it also has the real ring of truth about it.



Why Watch?


  • It engages with the controversy about evidence gained by torture
  • Its strong cast includes Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini
  • Jessica Chastain carries the entire movie
  • The raid itself – surely the most convincing ever filmed


© Steve Morrissey 2013



Zero Dark Thirty – at Amazon





Point Break

Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze in Point Break


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



22 October



World’s first parachute jump, 1797

On this day in 1797, André-Jacque Garnerin made the first descent by frameless parachute. Ascending from the Parc Monceau in a basket attached to what looked like a large furled umbrella, itself attached to a balloon, Garnerin got to around 900 metres (3,000 feet) before unpacking the chute and severing a cord attaching him to the balloon. His descent was ungainly and his basket fell rapidly and swung wildly. He arrived back on the ground with a thump but unhurt. Garnerin was not the first person to dabble with the parachute however. There are pictures from the mid 15th century in the Codex Atlanticus of Leonardo Da Vinci which show what has since been proved to be a workable design for a parachute, and one from 1470 by an unknown person of a man suspended below what looks like a a cone-shaped contraption which looks like a parachute but which wouldn’t have broken his fall very well (the “chute” in the word parachute being the fall, and the “para” meaning protection). However Garnerin is the first recorded instance of it having been done with what we would today recognise as a parachute and so wins the prize. His daring feat caused a sensation and made his name. Garnerin was later named Official Aeronaut of France and toured England, making one ascent from Lord’s Cricket Ground and arriving, reportedly, in Chingford 15 minutes later. Considering it’s 17 miles away (27.4km) there must have been one hell of a side wind that day, or someone has embellished the facts.



Point Break (1991, dir: Kathryn Bigelow)

Here we are in 1991, when Keanu Reeves was Lovely Keanu, young, surferish, just a bit Bill & Ted still, waiting for the next phase (which came with Speed) of his dance with fame. Point Break is a key film in his career, as it was in the career of Patrick Swayze, who went from Dirty Dancing to Road House to this, and then…
It’s also a major film for Kathryn Bigelow, transitioning between the pop-smart vampire flick Near Dark, the girl-in-jeopardy cop flick Blue Steel and into limbo until The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty reminded the world how good she was. So, Point Break, a kinda dumb, kinda mad film about an FBI rookie inflitrating an LA surfer gang who pull off bank jobs in their spare time, disguised in American presidents’ masks. Heading the gang is Swayze, as Bodhi, a Zen surf master, bank robber and sky diver. Swayze is always good for some easy laughs, but he is actually a lot better than that ridiculous surf/rob/jump precis suggests. The film is best known for its shots of surfer guys riding waves, and sky divers freefalling to earth, but it’s noticeable at this distance how much energy Bigelow puts into even the most basic sequences, while Reeves and Swayze both do their best with a script that’s a full wheel of cheese. With Point Break it’s full marks to the hairstylists, the body doubles (though Swayze did a lot if not all of his own skydiving) and California for being California, dude.



Why Watch?


  • Keanu and Swayze in their prime
  • Who says women can’t direct action?
  • Gary Busey and John McGinley adding flavoursome support
  • A soundtrack of old-school rock including Jimi Hendrix, Love, Deep Purple


© Steve Morrissey 2013



Point Break – at Amazon