Published on: January 18, 2013Zero Dark Thirty
is, to my way of thinking, easily one of the best movies of the year, not just because of the technical and artistic accomplishment, but because it is that rarity - a film that forces one to think, to reconsider even deeply felt positions, and then remains in the consciousness long after the movie has ended. Its sense of immediacy as a "you are there" quality that is both unexpected and extraordinary.
The film is a lightly fictionalized look at the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and one of the most remarkable things about it is that even though we all know how it ends, Zero Dark Thirty
is a nail-biter, a thriller of uncommon skill that is directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, the team that gave us The Hurt Locker
. It also features one of the best performances of the year - Jessica Chastain as Maya, the obsessive CIA analyst who spends a year chasing Bin Laden; she is based on a real person, and Chastain is remarkable as a character who is Javert-like in her quest.Zero Dark Thirty
has generated a lot of controversy because it portrays incidents of torture, including waterboarding, perpetrated upon suspected terrorists by CIA field agents seeking information regarding the whereabouts of Bin Laden. A number of politicians and CIA officials have attacked the film, saying that it incorrectly shows that torture lead to actionable intelligence. But the critics miss the point - a portrayal of torture does not equate to an endorsement of torture, and Zero Dark Thirty
seems at best ambivalent about whether torture was justified. But since the first portrayal showing torture comes immediately after we've heard tapes from 9/11, there is a sense of an equivalent response, whether or not it worked. And yet, at the same time, there is the sense that torture diminishes the torturer as much as it does the victim. As I said, the scenario is complicated and the creative approach is thoughtful. (And, to be honest, I suspect that the politicians criticizing it are mostly upset that the American torture is being portrayed onscreen, as opposed to really believing that it did not happen ... though I would never doubt, for example, that Sen. John McCain finds the incidents of torture to be reprehensible. They are. Which is the point.) Zero Dark Thirty
also is a film with a number of business lessons, since it is a movie that is about process - it is about the importance of passion in any enterprise, and how bureaucracy often can be the enemy of achievement. Watch the various CIA officers in the film as they jockey for position within the organization, and then watch the CIA look for marching orders from the political establishment. In some ways, it is amazing anything gets accomplished, and Zero Dark Thirty
demonstrates that while people like Maya can be difficult to manage, it is people like Maya who make things happen, who turn goals into achievement.
I have not seen all of the movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar ... but for me, of the ones I have seen, Zero Dark Thirty
is the best film of 2012. It is a remarkable piece of work that focuses, at its core, on the notion of consequences - moral and otherwise.
I have a wonderful wine to recommend to you this morning - the 2008 Isabel Mondavi Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which is smooth and delicious and perfect with risotto and seafood. (And it is from Oregon, which is even better.)
Three years ago today, Robert B. Parker passed away at age 77. The prolific author died of a heart attack at his desk ... which somehow seemed appropriate.
At the memorial service, his son, David Parker, said, in part, that his father's life offered a definition of how to be a man:
“Like his, my intimate relationships are abiding, loyal, deep and passionate. Like him, I think that what one does, one should do well. If we like eating we should eat well, we should cultivate our senses, we should dress well and learn what suits us, we should play at things that matter and not be idle or trivial.
"We should travel and know something of the world, we should learn another language. We should view all things, except romantic love, skeptically. We should puncture piety, challenge orthodoxy, we should be secular. We should be cultured without being effete, erudite without being pompous, smart without being glib. We should follow our own law consistently. People we love should know that we won't let them down. We should be funny.”
When it happened, I wrote the following:As a fairly young journalist, I once had the opportunity to interview Parker; I think it was in conjunction with the publication of “A Catskill Eagle.” I can vividly remember driving to Boston to meet him at the bar of the Ritz, a location often used in the Spenser novels. He was kind and patient, and answered every question as if he’d never heard it before, though I’m sure that at some level he’d heard all the questions before. He wasn’t a tall man by any means, though his thick muscularity wasn’t disguised by the natty navy blazer he wore. Parker also had an enormous grin that suggested he was enjoying his life more than anyone had a right to. When the interview was over, he insisted on paying for the beer; it was just the capstone on an afternoon that remains one of the best I’ve ever had as a reporter - meeting and talking to, and being taken seriously by, someone I idolized. Parker used to say that he believed that the reason people liked his books was that the language had almost musical beats, and they could hear it even as they read it. For me, and a lot of people like me, that language was part of the soundtrack of our lives. Short, punchy sentences. Colorful dialog. Vivid characters. Literature’s comfort food, may be the best way to describe it.
It's been three years, and the characters he created - especially Spenser, as now rendered by Ace Atkins - live on. As do the lessons he taught.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.