Tag Archives: Central Intelligence Agency

Zero Dark Thirty

27 Jun

zero dark thirty

 

 

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writer: Mark Boal

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 157 minutes

 

Zero Dark Thirty is the award winning film of the hunt for Osama bin Laden (OBL) from the award winning director Kathryn Bigelow. The film and manhunt start with the 2001 terrorist atrocity in New York and end with the 2011 raid on the compound in Abbottabad in northern Pakistan. The opening phone recordings of people trapped in the twin towers are distressing. That the film jumps straight to a black site where a CIA operative is engaged in water boarding a prisoner is telling.

The film-makers are clearly keen to try and debate the subjects of rendition and torture, but ultimately fail to do so as they simply don’t commit to a position. Later in the film a CIA man complains that since they ‘scrapped the detainee program’ they cannot confirm if OBL is in Abbottabad. He feels that holding and interrogating detainees is critical to success in the so-called war on terror, but what do the film-makers think?

The central character of this movie is Maya (played by Jessica Chastain). It is her crusade to locate and kill OBL that drives the film forward. Most of her CIA colleagues lose interest, but she is obsessed and consumed by the hunt. Why that is the case is not clear, but the brief glimpses of Maya’s non-military life reveal a woman with little else to fill her time. She is a loner and she is socially inept. That is not enough to flesh out the character and a flaw with the film is the ambiguous and flat aspect to Maya’s personality, especially when compared to the far more interesting Dan (played by Jason Clarke).

Another flaw is the length and pacing of the film. It is brutally long at 157 minutes and it cannot sustain that duration. Why pad out a film where everyone knows the ending? I got the feeling that Kathryn Bigelow was so excited by her access to participants of the manhunt that she got carried away retelling the story. Certainly there is no need for the endless array of situation room briefings, debriefings, meetings and planning sessions in which operatives mumble away at each other in hard to fathom CIA speak. Talk is quick, elliptical and strictly for insiders. That might be highly authentic, but it does little for the audience.

There are a few positive aspects to this film such as the raid on OBL’s compound. That is a very well-conceived and tense segment with excellent use of night vision. Jason Clarke as Dan is very good and there are good cameos later on from Mark Strong and James Gandolfini. Unfortunately, that is not enough to redeem the film. It sidesteps the serious subject of the role of detaining and torturing prisoners and the central character of Maya is far too opaque. Those are big flaws and I am surprised that Bigelow missed them. Why, after all, did she make the film?

Safe House

21 Jul

 

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Writer: David Guggenheim

Stars:Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds and Robert Patrick

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 115 minutes

 

As with Liam Neeson, the early 1950’s born Denzel Washington is wearing well and still more than capable of starring in an all-action film. Here he plays an ex-CIA agent that went rogue, but dramatically appears back on the agency grid and in the middle of a messy deal in state secrets. That becomes apparent later in the film as the start is deliberately hazy. The camera follows Denzel around the streets of Cape Town where we get clandestine meetings, long-range snooping, some hand-to-hand combat and an exciting car chase. All of that happens in the first 20 minutes and certainly Safe House gets off to an intriguing start.

Washington’s co-star is Ryan Reynolds who plays a junior agent managing a rarely utilized safe house and to which the apprehended ex-agent is taken. Once that location is compromised Reynolds grabs the hand-cuffed Washington and goes on the run. He tries to deliver him back to his CIA senior colleagues, but it’s clear that other parties to the original dodgy deal are in pursuit, heavily armed and deadly serious. In essence the final 60 minutes is one long chase with 2 or 3 large set-piece shootouts and some decent close quarter combat.

The Director of Photography of Safe House is Oliver Wood who’s best known work to date was completed on the 3 excellent Bourne films. His cinematography on Safe House is highly reminiscent of those films and the long Bourne shadow falls all over this movie. That’s unfortunate because this film is not a patch on the Matt Damon trilogy. It is fast paced and the South African locations are interesting, but there is no real plot and the few ‘twists’ are well sign-posted. Washington is good in the flashier role, but Reynolds is typically unconvincing.

Colombiana

15 Jan

Director: Olivier Megaton

Writers: Luc Besson (screenplay), Robert Mark Kamen (screenplay)

Stars: Zoe Saldana, Michael Vartan and Callum Blue

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 108 minutes

 

 

Within the last few years we have had Hit Girl in the film Kick Ass (fantastic) and we have had the eponymous Hanna (not so good) blazing a trail for strong female action leads. Today we also have Haywire on general release and this film Colombiana fresh to the rental and download market. So it is clear that the likes of Jason Statham now have genuine female company in the busting heads department. The trend no doubt reflects broader socio-economic developments, but that discussion is better served another day. For right now we have Zoe Saldana as the Colombiana.

This is written and produced by Luc Besson who has consistently supported the female action hero with the likes of Nikita and Joan of Arc. The basic revenge / assassin story is highly similar to Besson’s best film Leon. In fact, one could argue that Saldana’s character is the adult version of Natalie Portman’s from that 1994 classic. Both are out to pay back the drug dealing murderers of their parents and both seek training in the ways of the hired assassin whilst plotting their revenge.

Colombiana has a very simple story, but is almost more watchable for it. It moves along quickly enough with a couple of decent set pieces and Zoe Saldana just about holds it all together. It is hardly thought provoking and the CIA character and plotline on the edge of it is highly implausible. However, for about 100 minutes of easy action and unchallenging fun it is not a bad option. And some of the sly Scarface references are actually quite clever.

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