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Now Playing: Argo and Zero Dark Thirty

Argo
dir. Ben Affleck, 2012, USA

Rating: 5.4

Zero Dark Thirty
dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 2012, USA

Rating: 9.8

The bottom line: It has become fashionable to debate the “morality” of the torture depicted in the masterful Zero Dark Thirty, so why have the racism and xenophobia of the middlebrow Argo gotten a free pass?

Now playing in theaters everywhere is Argo, the third directorial effort from actor-turned-filmmaker Ben Affleck and an audience and critical favorite that has been running continuously since its debut last October. Also now playing everywhere, after an Oscar-qualifying limited run in New York and L.A. last month, is Zero Dark Thirty, the new film from screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow (the Oscar-winning team behind The Hurt Locker). The movies have some uncanny superficial similarities: both are fact-based thrillers that detail secret CIA missions in the Middle East, both were scored by the great French composer Alexandre Desplat, and both have been positioned by their respective studios to rack up multiple Oscar nominations when they are announced on Thursday. But it is even more interesting to consider how the films differ: one of them reinforces cinematic stereotypes about Middle Easterners in order to milk suspense from a scenario that is as jingoistic as it is generic, while the other is a grave, morally complex work of art that challenges audience preconceptions about the “war on terror” and American foreign policy in the Middle East.

Incredibly, between the two movies, only Zero Dark Thirty has generated controversy in the American media. This may be in part because its subject, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, still feels current and is therefore likely to have viewers with political axes to grind looking to have their worst fears confirmed. By contrast, the subject of Argo, the rescue of American diplomats from Iran after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, feels as distant and foreign as the fake sci-fi movie that gives Affleck’s film its title. It may also have something to do with the fact that the CIA agents in Argo use good-old fashioned intelligence and cleverness (and not anything as upsetting as torture) to defeat their Iranian opponents. But I also think there may be something more insidious going on: after decades of conditioning, are American viewers more comfortable seeing Middle Eastern men portrayed as one-dimensional villains – hyper-masculine, swarthy and bearded but also primitive, simple-minded and easily fooled? This is a Hollywood stereotype that has its roots in the silent era (e.g., The Son of the Sheik) but might be best exemplified by the sword-wielding Arab who is gunned down by Indiana Jones in the biggest laugh-getting moment of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Significantly, this is a view of Middle Easterners offered by Argo but not Zero Dark Thirty.

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Ben Affleck is too talented of a director for me to pan Argo outright but I find the outpouring of critical love for it somewhat puzzling since it also strikes me as the least interesting of his three movies. Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck’s first and second features respectively, are taut, character-based crime films that feature evocative and appealing uses of their Boston locations (which, not coincidentally, are Affleck’s old stomping grounds). The globe-trotting Argo may be more ambitious in terms of subject matter but, of the three movies, it is also, surprisingly, the most devoid of moral complexity. On the plus side, Argo is undeniably a well-crafted, old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment that features a strong ensemble cast. But even the film’s most ostensibly entertaining elements – particularly the comic relief (most of which comes from Alan Arkin as a shrewd B-film producer) and vaguely-sketched romance subplot (Affleck’s CIA operative Tony Mendez is having some sort of marital trouble) – seem dubious for the way they make a simplistic story of American heroes versus Persian villains more easily palatable.

I think that a Zodiac/Social Network-level David Fincher would be required to fully do justice to Argo‘s ambitious story material. By contrast, Affleck avoids the more distanced, clinical approach that a Fincher would bring and goes overboard in trying to manipulate viewer emotions instead. Particularly regrettable are the way he attempts to generate the maximum suspense possible for every single scenario (e.g., John Goodman’s character picking up his phone at the exact moment the Iranian cop calling on the other end of the line is getting ready to set his receiver down, the big action climax of Iranian police cars chasing a plane down an airport runway, etc.), and then piles on multiple sappy-happy endings: not only does Mendez save the day professionally, we also see him score a huge measure of personal redemption in a ridiculous coda where he reunites with his estranged wife, a character who has been previously absent from the film entirely.

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Much of the praise heaped on Argo has been aimed at its handsome and elaborate production design and yet, while it is clear that the filmmakers spent a lot of money recreating the late-1970s milieu, I was also never able to once forget that I was watching a “period piece.” I would even say that Affleck and Co. seem to be winking at the audience in their show-offy parade of copious facial hair, Coke-bottle glasses and retro-cool/tacky thrift-store clothes. Predictably, Affleck contrasts his all-American, Scooby Doo-looking protagonists with the humorless – and more bureaucratically-dressed – Iranians. Then, weirdly, as the film progresses, Affleck seems to increasingly depict his male Iranian characters as nothing but bearded, wild-eyed maniacs whose sole reason for being is apparently to sniff out any Americans who might be trying to either enter or leave their country. (The least-offensive portrayal in this regard comes from a welcome cameo by Rafi Pitts, an Iranian writer/director whose terrific 2010 thriller The Hunter uses the Ayatollah’s regime as the backdrop for something far subtler and more politically incisive.)

Also significant is how Affleck minimizes the role that Canadians played in the real-life covert rescue mission that inspired his story; Affleck’s heroes consist solely of American CIA agents working in concert with Hollywood filmmakers. If Argo does ultimately win the Best Picture Oscar, as some pundits are predicting, it will likely be because of the way that it celebrates the ingenuity of Hollywood, much like last year’s Best Picture winner The Artist did (albeit in a very different way). “If I’m going to make a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit,” says Arkin’s Lester Siegel, a composite character based on several real Hollywood producers, in one of the film’s key lines of dialogue. That Siegel’s “fake hit” fools the Iranian authorities (and is thus central to the success of the CIA’s rescue mission) is presented as the ultimate triumph of both Hollywood and America, a point rammed home in Argo‘s feel-good final shot: a close-up of Star Wars action figures on a shelf in the bedroom of Mendez’s pre-adolescent son. Is this what the CIA has been fighting to preserve and thus allowing to perpetuate? Not anything so idealistic as “freedom” but . . . corporate commercialism? I’ve tried hard but can’t come up with a less-offensive interpretation of what this shot might mean.

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While a movie that climaxes with the killing of Osama bin Laden might have been made in a spirit of “America, fuck yeah!” by some Hollywood filmmakers, this is pointedly not the case with Zero Dark Thirty, a film that uses scrupulous research not to flatter prejudices nor rehash popular myths (a la Spielberg’s Lincoln), but rather to tell audiences things they didn’t already know and, in some cases, might not want to know. Zero Dark Thirty begins with an audio montage over a black screen – a bold device that calls to mind a similar scene in Zodiac, a movie with which Bigelow’s film has several intriguing parallels. The audio montage consists of phone calls made from inside hijacked airliners and the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the logical beginning of the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. While some viewers have cried “too soon” at Bigelow’s use of this audio as a building block for her narrative, I think there is something refreshing about her attempt to merge real world tragedy with the tropes of commercial filmmaking. After all, American movies this relevant were being pumped out of Hollywood every week during World War II. It is only in more recent decades that the American cinema has fallen so far behind world-historical events.

Perhaps what really bothers some viewers is the way this audio prologue is juxtaposed with the first scene proper; the real narrative begins in Pakistan in 2003, where CIA agents are brutally torturing a prisoner in order to prevent an imminent terror attack in Saudi Arabia. This sequence, which shows the now-banned waterboarding practice in graphic detail, is disturbing, unsparing and excruciating to watch. The tone is not exploitative but matter-of-fact. The person being tortured is portrayed sympathetically. The scene is shocking not only for viewers but also for at least one of the film’s characters: a newly arrived CIA recruit named Maya, who specializes in locating terrorists and who will be the audience surrogate for the remainder of the film’s two and a half hour running time. Maya will become increasingly desensitized to such “enhanced interrogation” methods as the plot progresses. (I suspect the refusal of the filmmakers to explicitly say “This is BAD!,” which is not the same thing as moral ambivalence, is what has some reviewers so flummoxed.) As embodied by the great young actress Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life), Maya is a quintessential Bigelow protagonist in that she is tenacious, obsessive and focused on her job with a laser-like intensity. Over dinner and wine, a colleague encourages her to “be social” but it isn’t long before the conversation turns back to Maya’s favorite subject: Osama bin Laden (or “UBL” as he’s most often referred to in the dialogue). As with Jeremy Renner’s bomb disposal expert in The Hurt Locker, Maya offers viewers a window into aspects of contemporary existence that most of us will fortunately never have to experience but which nonetheless makes for riveting cinema. Chastain’s tightly coiled performance is one of the best of the year.

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What is perhaps most surprising about Zero Dark Thirty, given its subject matter and epic running time, is just how minimalist it is. While most of the plot is devoted to CIA agents (played by an awesome revolving-door ensemble cast that includes Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler and Edgar Ramirez) gathering mountains of information from far-flung sources and connecting the necessary dots that will ultimately reveal bin Laden’s whereabouts, Mark Boal’s screenplay has nonetheless managed to strip this story down to its bare essence. The sheer volume of information involved in Maya’s intelligence-gathering operation doesn’t allow for ornamentation and the film is always relentlessly hurtling forward. Unlike Affleck, Boal and Bigelow eschew both comic relief and a love story. Character backstory is also notably, and thankfully, absent. What we have instead is a present-tense film about the process of doing a job of work, something that Howard Hawks (a director Bigelow in many ways resembles) would have surely appreciated. While Bigelow (Near Dark, Strange Days) has always been a great director, she appears to have only recently found her ideal collaborator in Boal, a rare screenwriter who believes that movies are meant to move and doesn’t bother with the kind of easy moralizing or facile psychologizing on display in Argo. Bigelow has even humbly referred to herself in interviews as a mere vessel for Boal’s content. However it works, their partnership in filmmaking resembles a high-wire act, and Zero Dark Thirty raises the wire considerably higher than their impressive previous collaboration on The Hurt Locker in 2008.

Just as The Hurt Locker provoked misguided accusations of “inauthenticity,” so too have Zero Dark Thirty‘s most vocal critics harped on its “based on first person accounts” credentials, some of them even calling it a “docudrama,” which apparently means they think the filmmakers have an obligation to be not just truthful but didactic. It is more fruitful, I think, to see Zero Dark Thirty for what it is: a procedural, a subgenre of detective fiction that focuses on the specific techniques involved in an investigation, though this in no way means that a “moral context” is absent – as Jane Meyer and others have claimed. (On the contrary, I would argue Zero Dark Thirty, unlike Argo, actively provokes viewers into reflecting on its moral quandaries, as the critical debates swirling around it have already proven in spades.) While most movie procedurals – Memories of Murder and Zodiac being two prominent recent examples – detail investigations into the crimes of an individual by local law enforcement, Bigelow and Boal have ambitiously applied the form to an international global manhunt that spans a full decade and involves dozens of characters. The outcome of this particular story, of course, is never in doubt. Rather than being a hindrance, however, the foregone conclusion of the ending allows Bigelow and Boal to shift the nature of the film’s suspense; the question of “What will happen?” turns into a question of “How will it happen?” and the result ends up being as suspenseful as anything in Hitchcock.

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Some commentators, most notoriously the Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald, have argued that because Zero Dark Thirty contains scenes of the CIA engaged in the practice of torture, and because Maya does eventually get her man, the film is somehow justifying – or arguing for the efficacy of – the torture depicted in the early scenes. Leaving aside the fact that the waterboarding as shown does not lead to its intended objective, I would argue that Bigelow and Boal have employed something close to journalistic objectivity (it is significant that Boal was a print journalist before becoming a screenwriter) in what amounts to a political Rorschach test. How viewers feel about the movie will likely reveal more about their own biases than it will about those of the filmmakers (which, as interviews with them reveal for anyone who cares to look, clearly fall on the anti-torture side of the debate). But let’s face it: even if the climactic SEAL Team 6 raid sequence, with its handheld camerawork, brisk editing and “night vision” green-tinting, is the best and most intense piece of action filmmaking around, it is not exactly going to have audiences cheering in the aisles. The film ends instead with the disquieting question of “Now what?,” which Bigelow and Boal don’t even attempt to answer. Many of the critics who have objected to Zero Dark Thirty on moral grounds have even admitted this is not “CIA hagiography” but something much more unsettling instead. It’s other people, the hypothetical “standard viewers,” that they seem to be worried about misinterpreting any of this. As a wise man once said, “It’s more than a little embarrassing when critics trust audiences less than film-makers do.”

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

35 responses to “Now Playing: Argo and Zero Dark Thirty

  • Susan Doll

    I have not seen ZERO DARK THIRTY but I am looking forward to it. I find the criticism of its so-called justification for torture disingenuous. I don’t think it is really so much about the torture as it is about high-brow, often scholarly critics who can never be satisfied about any Hollywood film. I am not sure that all of the criticism is coming from that group, but some of it is. If a filmmaker dips their toes in their ideological waters, there is always some kind of backlash or criticism from this group. I recognize the verbiage and stance from when I attended Northwestern, when few of the faculty ever took contemporary Hollywood films seriously, because they all “supported the status quo/patriarchy.” And, of course, most of them do, but that isn’t the only thing they do. Those Hollywood films that did try for a critical stance were ridiculed or re-interpreted as having a dangerous subtext that “really” supported the conservative status quo, even if the film obviously didn’t. .

    ARGO did not receive the same kind of scrutiny from this type of critic or scholar because it is too Hollywood. It doesn’t have the intellectual cache of ZERO DARK THIRTY. This only happens with a film that is highly touted in other critical circles as some kind of important assessment of our socio-political times. There is also a self-serving side to this. Critics take an opposing stance to an exceptional film because the only negative critique in a sea of positive ones will get the attention.

    On another note, I liked ARGO quite a bit and was not offended by its depiction of Middle Easterners. I think for those of us who lived through this history as adults,the film hit us on a personal level. As a film historian, I found it to be more about “Hollywood” with a capital “H,” which is something Affleck knows about from many angles–Oscar winner, top actor, over-hyped movie star, paparazzi darling, has-been, comeback kid, etc. You can’t say Affleck does not know the Hollywood game; the Hollywood scenes were the most pointed observations in the film but masked as comedy. Also, the film supposes a kind of universality to pop culture that is a running thread beneath the narrative events. Re: The tense scene at the end when the guards at the airport “lightened up” because they could relate to science fiction. To that end, the last shot has nothing to do with Star Wars specifically as a corporate Hollywood enterprise (which obviously Affleck was lampooning via Arkin), but Star Wars (and by extension, all pop culture) as the key to getting those people out of that situation.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Suzi, thanks for the thoughtful and detailed response. You are right that Affleck “knows the Hollywood game” and for this reason I think the Hollywood scenes are by far the best parts of ARGO. I only wish that he had been able to yoke his satirical and pointed observations about the film industry to another movie project altogether. (On a similar note, part of what made the massively underrated HOLLYWOODLAND so poignant was the canny way the filmmakers used Affleck’s real-life persona as a Hollywood has-been to parallel that of George “Superman” Reeves; I don’t know if you saw it but it was a low-budget film that came out in 2006 – before Affleck became a director but after he had starred in a series of big-budget bombs including, most famously, GIGLI, but also the superhero movie DAREDEVIL.)

      But I contend Affleck was in way over his head in his portrayal of a sensitive and thorny international political quagmire in ARGO. Perhaps you are right that I would feel differently had I lived through the situation as an adult (I was four at the time). I think I am especially sensitive to reductive stereotypes of Middle Easterners because of the rampant racism against them that I see around me all of the time. For a lot of young people in America today, Arabs, Persians and Muslims are all synonymous with terrorism – and this is a line of thinking that has to change. This is a big problem in particular at one school where I teach that has a high percentage of Middle Eastern students. One day, I announced I would be showing an Iranian film in class and one of my students said, out loud, “I hate Iranians.” I responded by saying, “Surely, you mean to say that you hate some of the policies of their government?” “No,” he replied, “I hate Iranians.” Since this student had never been to Iran, his opinion was based only on stereotypical images that he had seen in the American media (including Hollywood movies). While I doubt that Ben Affleck personally harbors anti-Muslim or anti-Persian feelings, I still think ARGO is racist in a subtle and insidious way because of how it perpetuates those stereotypes.

      As a film teacher, the only way to combat this is to show real Iranian movies, whose more nuanced portrayal of their citizens has had the fortunate side-effect of making some of my students say, “Wow, these people are more like me than I realized . . .”

  • Annabelle Havlicek

    Did either of you bother to read the article behind Argo: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2007/04/feat_cia/ or are you all so entralled by the sound of your own voices that you just don’t have time for it. Remember that Iran was a really different (and I emphasize REALLY DIFFERENT) Iran at the time “Argo” was happening, but I bet none of you were even born, or even old enough to see those hostages paraded before the cameras every night. The Americans were taken hostage by Islamist students and militants.
    We actually supported the Shah who was living in exile. He died July 27, 1980. In September Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded Iran. These events led the Iranian government to finally enter negotiations with the U.S. The hostage crisis ended the day of the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. Argo, from what I could tell, being old enough to bear witness to these events, held true, allowing for Hollywood. Zero Dark Thirty, considering Kathleen Bigelow is working with night goggles on, crafted more of a “Hollywood” movie.
    Oh, by the way – both of them are “Movies” people – crafted for entertainment. I admit, the torture was a bit much – but would you have preferred a black screen with the words “a torture session was necessary at this point.”
    But you know the old saying – those who can’t do – teach or become a critic.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Annabelle, I’m not sure to whom you are referring when you write “you all,” “none of you,” etc. but I am the sole author of the review above. If you meant to also include Susan Doll, you clearly did not read her reply. You would have known that she liked ARGO quite a bit and that one of her stated reasons why is because she did, in fact, live through that history as an adult. I don’t think, however, it should be necessary for anyone to live through any period in history in order to fully appreciate seeing that period depicted in a movie. If that were the case, there would be no audience for LINCOLN.

      I’m also not sure why you point out that ARGO and ZERO DARK THIRTY are “crafted for entertainment.” That was exactly the point I made in the penultimate paragraph – that we shouldn’t expect ZDT to be “didactic” just because it is based on a true story and engages serious issues. But I also feel that just because a film is popular and entertaining doesn’t mean that it can’t also be intelligent and morally complex. For me, ZDT fits this bill and ARGO, while containing some admittedly entertaining elements, does not.

      Finally, why do you ask if I would have “preferred a black screen with the words ‘a torture session was necessary at this point’?” Of course I would not have preferred that. Nowhere in my review did I express having a problem with the torture in ZDT. I have no real problems with the film whatsoever.

      I’m always glad to see comments from new readers but if you’re going to respond in the future you might want to make sure that you actually read what you are responding to first, instead of being over-eager to fire off an incoherent ad hominem attack.

      • Annabelle Havlicek

        You’re right! I should have read things more carefully, but I got bored looking up all those huge words in the dictionary. But you did actually say on Seek or Shout that they were “Long Reviews” of both films. But then they weren’t really “reviews” in the true sense of the word. You shouldn’t take things so personally. If you read your last paragraph, you’re the one making an abusive ad hominem remark.

  • michaelgloversmith

    Your busting out the old “Those who can’t do, teach” cliche is an ad hominem attack. If I had wanted to make an abusive remark I would have said something more along the lines of “Learn some fucking manners.”

  • jilliemae

    I find it very very surprising that one who disagrees with a stranger’s movie review feels the need to attack them personally, “But you know the old saying – those who can’t do – teach or become a critic.” This sentence is extremely offensive, being a librarian myself, who teaches the public on a daily basis, and to Mr. Smith and Ms. Doll, who both attempt to teach what they love to students. It is not easy to teach; it can be tiring and for the amount of work that is put in versus the pay is criminal. Annabelle, for the future, I would recommend disagreeing with a person’s words, not their personal lives. And as you seem to allude to, you are a woman of a certain age, and therefore should know better.

    • ahavlicek

      Ah Jilliemae, and you know nothing of me, because I too have taught, and still do. Disabled people … I teach them to sell on eBay, individually, or in groups … for free. Some catch on in 3-4 hours. One gentleman took 44 hours. So I know quite a bit about the “pay being criminal” because I don’t get any.

  • jilliemae

    Well, you know nothing of Mr. Smith or Ms. Doll but still felt the need to throw attacks at their professions. You obviously like to stir up trouble and get your kicks from starting arguments with people on the Internet. And congratulations on your selfless work.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks, Jill. Annabelle’s admission to being a teacher in her reply to your first comment confirmed something that I suspected all along: her “Those who can’t do, teach” remark was, even if only subconsciously, an expression of self-loathing more than anything else.

      • ahavlicek

        God you guys are hysterical. If you can’t take the heat, remove the Reply section from your blogs and don’t ask for comments. Do you only respond this way to people who don’t agree or dislike what you have to say? I teach eBay to vets, one of them was a Seal. He had plenty of experience with black op missions and was severely wounded and disabled for his country. You guys can sit in your comfy chairs and talk sh*t all day like you really know what’s going on. You don’t.

  • Corrine

    Obviously, someone got your goat!

  • Catherine M. Monroe

    Reviewing the film, Times critic Manohla Dargis said Zero Dark Thirty “shows the dark side of that war. It shows the unspeakable and lets us decide if the death of Bin Laden was worth the price we paid.” Continued Dargis: “There is much else to say about the movie, which ends with the harrowing siege of Bin Laden’s hideaway by the Navy SEALs (played by, among others, Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt), much of it shot to approximate the queasy, weirdly unreal green of night-vision goggles. Ms. Bigelow’s direction here is unexpectedly stunning, at once bold and intimate: she has a genius for infusing even large-scale action set pieces with the human element. One of the most significant images is of a pool of blood on a floor. It’s pitiful, really, and as the movie heads toward its emphatically nontriumphant finish, it is impossible not to realize with anguish that all that came before — the pain, the suffering and the compromised ideals — has led to this.” Dargis designated the film a New York Times critics’ pick.

  • Bherz

    I have yet to see Zero Dark though definitely will. I thought Argo was an amazing story, but kind of a crappy movie. The same with Lincoln. There’s only so many times you can do a closeup of the protagonist’s face with stirring music in the background. Maybe the same with _Ghandi_. Amazing story! But all that difficult a movie to make? Many props to Tarentino for the difficulty in telling alternative histories ….

    • michaelgloversmith

      I agree with you 100% about both ARGO and LINCOLN. The endings of both movies in particular were so cloying, overly sentimental and transparently manipulative. The whole “now he’s dead but we’re going to flash back to him giving a speech” ending in LINCOLN was especially terrible. I’m a little baffled as to why they’ve both gotten so much critical acclaim. I think part of the reason is that these movies are targeted at adult audiences and, in a world where TWILIGHT/THE HUNGER GAMES/THE DARK KNIGHT RISES/THE AVENGERS are dominating the box office, critics feel so grateful for any “adult fare” at all that they end up overpraising it. Same thing happened last year with that middlebrow George Clooney vehicle THE DESCENDANTS.

      • Julio

        That’s dismissive of the respective critiques that they give each movie. How is this year any different from any other year? There have always been bad movies and good movies. Crowd pleasers and more high brow fair. That entire logic “the offset of bad movies makes good ones seem better than they are” is utter bullsh*t. Btw, I can’t agree with it being racist and how ZD30 is in any way a thoughtful look into such a complicated subject I can’t even begin to understand. It’s fine enough Both are average flicks that ignore and make up facts and events as they go along. There is nothing remarkable about the both of them.

      • michaelgloversmith

        Julio, thanks for reading but I’m not entirely clear on what you’re saying. I agree that the “logic” of bad movies making good ones seem better than they are is “bullshit” but I think this is a logic that many contemporary American critics follow. While it’s true that there have always been crowd pleasers and more high brow fare, as you say, I was speaking about Hollywood specifically. Hollywood is more risk-averse now than ever before and less willing to finance movies aimed at adults. There is an enormous gulf between the kind of mainstream films being produced in Hollywood today vs., say, the 1970s.

        Only time will tell whether either ARGO or ZD30 are “remarkable.” As a film studies instructor though, I can guarantee you right now which one I’LL be showing in class 10 years from now.

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  • Simona Nicoara

    I enjoyed Argo very much and i also enjoyed zero dark thirty. I think it is a very interesting movie and there are many details in this film that make it so interesting. I would recommend both of these films to everyone!

    • michaelgloversmith

      Simona, could you elaborate a little bit about what you enjoyed about the movie. What exactly are some of the “details” that made the movie “interesting” to you? I need more specificity in order to give you points!

  • Jenn Williams

    I have not seen Argo (don’t think i really will either) from the review that you painted however that wouldn’t really be a movie id typically go out my way to its not a subject that would interest me as much. Also from the pictures you included the set or the attempt to make it seem retro or from the 70’s seems more like it was done so over the top it looks distasteful. Anyways moving on to Zero Dark Thirty i really enjoyed this movie so much so after watching it in class the next day i watched it at home again. I really like Mayas character she just plays such a smart role and it was kind of a similar role to her Interstellar (a must see) character Murphy where shes super smart too and gives a mind blowing performance in both films. Mayas character is very job oriented and seems like she will stop at nothing to catch OBL . Zero Dark Thirty i feel was actually very informative and told a different story than we were told on the news reports consistently when OBL was originally captured that he was found in a cave and all these other crazy obscurities. However ZDT depicted the truth and yet showed it was very tactical and well planned out. As far as the torture scenes i mean i think it could have been portrayed a lot worse and that there are horror movies and other films that have depicted things much worse and although this form of torture was occurring and going on it my personal opinion it was necessary and i think there is a lot of torture going on this world that we don’t see due to their being filter on news and not wanting to cause public chaos or fear..but that’s just my opinion and that doesn’t matter but i thought ZDT was a good film that portrayed actual real life events. I felt it was easy to relate to since everyone knew about OBL and that America wanted him dead or alive its not like someone could watch this movie and be like i don’t understand why they wanted to catch him it was something everyone already knew the backdrop to. I also thought it was interesting how Bigelow used real life phone calls from 9/11 to open the movie kind of mixing the film she made with documentary film like aspects. Overall this movie is amazing and i loved the whole movie i actually kind of wished it was longer because i enjoyed it so much not because i felt i wanted more material i was so engrossed in the film itself and how Bigelow portrayed the situation.

  • Erika

    I was tempted to comment on your article about ZDT and gender politics, but decided this was a better place to start, considering I have a strong opinion regarding the way women are portrayed in Argo. I found it pretty damn sexist. The only female character who comes close to having any substance is the Canadian ambassador’s housekeeper, who is torn (in her very brief screen time) between ratting out the Americans in an act of patriotism, or keeping their secret out of respect and loyalty to her employers. This test of loyalty to country is also one of Argo’s rare moments of portraying a sympathetic Iranian character. For these reasons it is an interesting and tense moment to watch, but it is hardly enough to make up for the fact that every other woman that sees screen time seems to have no relevance other than their relationship to a man. The female hostages are the “wives”. They are seen doing dishes, comforting their husbands, and being reassured by the men. They have no confidence. It seems as though these women have no feasible reason to even be in Iran in the first place, and could not have possibly come to such a volatile region with any ambitions other than to stand by their men. The movie (if memory serves me correctly) doesn’t even pass the famous Bechdel test! (And it would have been criminally easy!!! Two women locked up for months with a group of men couldn’t have found literally anything to talk to each other about on-screen? Inconceivable.)

    But wow, by contrast, I really really really love watching movies about women who are good at their jobs. Holy cow, does ZDT ever deliver on that front. Not one, but THREE (count ‘em!) women who kick ass at doing what they do. I haven’t felt so invigorated by a female character since I first saw Silence of the Lambs (Clarice and Maya have much in common, but still stand as two very differently developed women handling jobs in a “mans” field). And Mr. Smith: your comment in your article about ZDT and gender politics about how Maya’s role in the CIA echoes Bigelow’s role in Hollywood is right on point. I think that Maya’s character and experience in the film is so much more impactful because of Bigelow’s hand as director. When I heard the men in the elevator call Maya “the girl” it was like a gunshot in my ears. But it was an important and perfectly placed moment. Bigelow doesn’t scream it at us, only whispers; but she still successfully reminds us that Maya has a glass ceiling above her head. One that she is capable of shattering. In my favorite scene, the marines are playing horseshoes (perfectly, a game which measures both skill and chance) while debating whether they have faith in the mission, and Chris Pratt’s character says “That’s the kind of concrete data I’m looking for. If her confidence is the one thing that’s keeping me from getting ass-raped in a Pakistani prison, I’m gonna be honest with you bro, I’m cool with it.”

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks for the comment, Erika. Your remark about the female CIA characters being treated like “wives” in ARGO is hilarious and accurate. If only Ben Affleck had meant that to be some kind of critique of the CIA! And, of course, having the only female character of substance be an Iranian character is problematic because she’s also the only sympathetic Iranian character, a notion that only seems designed to flatter the prejudices of western viewers that Iranian women are “oppressed.”

  • Ray

    In all I think the movie was great. I loved how the film only had a handful of action scenes, but from start to finish, it had you at the edge of your seat. And I started to understand and feel Maya’s obsession of her job to find all of these men that will eventually lead to Osama Bin-laden. One scene in particular that got me furious was not because the scene was captured or filmed poorly but simply how shocking and how suspenseful it was. The scene where Maya’s friend Jessica invited a man into a military base who she thought could be a lead in their case ended up being a suicide bomber killing her and other base personnel. I feel like Jessica got caught up in the moment of excitement that it blinded her judgment and ignored everyone else’s safety. After that scene I immediately started thinking “what and absolute dumb idea” how would she allow access to someone with no background, no information that tells her that what he is saying is true and no idea if this person is either a friend or a foe.

  • David Kolodziejski

    I’d have to disagree with Ray thinks revolving how the film keeps you on the edge of your seat. I loved Zero Dark Thirty however I wouldn’t say that it keeps you on the edge of your seat, in fact I believe the exact opposite better describes this film. With the exception of the last thirty minutes or so this movie is very draining and exhausting, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, there were many times early on in the film where I felt tired and questioned the significance of the scene but that just it. The Hunt for Osama-Bin-Laden wasn’t measure in days, weeks, or months but rather in years. It took over 10 years to locate and kill Osama-Bin-Laden and most of this story isn’t about cars exploding or guns firing but rather the long, draining, hours, and research it took in order to complete there mission. This movie is meant to draining and it’s meant to be exhausting and I believe Kathryn Bigelow does a great jobs portraying this amongst the audience.

    The character development of Maya is one that should also be noted. In the being of the film she doesn’t yet seem to have a compete understanding of what or how she is to go about capturing Bin-Laden. She is asking questions all around and almost seems like she doesn’t know what she’s doing. But then as the film progresses Maya begins torturing terrorist and becomes more aggressive. However, the most significant scene throughout the entire film had to have been when Maya got into an argument with Joseph about getting technicians and monitoring phone calls. After Joseph argues that he must protect the homeland, Maya seems to just explode and counters back with how capturing Bin-Laden will protect the homeland and if you don’t agree to my term then you can send me back to DC and explain to my boss why you sent me back because we had a solid lead of Bin-Laden but you thought it was too much work and effort to follow through (summarizing over here). Either way I believe it was that moment when everybody in the audience realized how determined Maya is capturing Osama-Bin-Laden and the rest is history.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Great point about the evolution of Maya’s character, David. At one point, we learn that she was recruited to work for the CIA straight out of high school so the work that we see her doing is literally the only work she has ever done as an adult. She is a classic Kathryn Bigelow protagonist in this regard – completely single-minded, focused and even obsessed – but she seems to become increasingly obsessed with her work as the years go by. The scene between Maya and Joseph in the hallway is Chastain’s best moment in the film. It should have won her the Oscar!

  • Christian Rivera

    I loved how the movie started with actual phone calls from 9/11 to grasp the audiences’ attention. Most people you talk to remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on 9/11. So to be able to put the audience in a state of mind that they all can relate to is quite impressive. The movie was long but how can it not be when it comes to the aspect of capturing Osama Bin Laden. As a viewer, you can’t take say the movie was boring or pointless because there was no action until towards the end of the film. It took us years and years to find this guy.

    One of the issues I had with this movie is how the director makes every Iranian look and act exactly the same. Sure Iran has a much different point of view on how life should be then America but that doesn’t mean every character should have long beards and believe the only way to punish or teach someone a lesson is through torture like the social media and news have made them out to be. You’re taking away the uniqueness and differences that would separate one man from another. To imagine a world where everyone had the same beliefs and same personalities is misleading and it honestly through me off a bit. Its like every Iranian is the same character.

    What I was most impressed with in the film was the growth of Maya. At first you just see her sitting back and soaking in all the information as if she wasn’t in charge. Then the movie progresses, and we see one bad-ass chick. She starts demanding answers and eventually leads to more controlling acts of power like torture. Her desire to finish the job led to an awesome climax in the film and ultimately, a much more exciting finish.

  • Waiverly LaBlue

    I have not seen Argo so i can not give a comment on that movie, but i can give a comment on zero dark thirty. That movie was the most suspenseful and the way she directed the movie made me feel like i was there during all those interrogations. The movie was done so wonderfully that when they gave the order for the kill shot on bin laden and going through the motions with the canaries during the hunt for bin laden in that big house was so intense i thought i was one of the soldiers. i enjoyed the movie so much im looking for it to buy it for my mother who has never seen it and if she doesnt want the movie then i will gladly keep it and watch it repeatedly. On a sad note i will not be attending class today due to an oncoming sinus infection and i am sorry to miss class. Zero Dark Thirty is the best movie you have shown in class all semester.

  • Alla Riepushka

    Kathryn Bigelow’s film Dark Zero Thirty generates its power through its integrity. Details of the film are simple, but the unique ordering (organization) of those details is very strong. Just like an alphabet – one letter is powerless but in conjunction with others it forms a word – powerful force. What word would it be specifically decides whoever controls ordering. The same situation is with this Dark Zero Thirty – the whole film is a massive powerful energy, tat is given to us by the director.
    The main achievement of the film is the implementation of the feeling of obsession – the ‘long-term mania’ that for many years has grown inside a person. That person is exhausted of losing people and time; exhausted stand moral contradiction of the whole situation.
    At the end film cause a feeling of devastation and sickly fatigue. That feeling is similar to those that are experienced by the main character. Sentiments open the film, sentiments close it, and everything in between is a dramatic portrait of approximate facts. That gives the whole meaning to Dark Zero Thirty.
    Dark Zero Thirty is one the best films I have ever seen.

  • Rebeka Nekolova

    I’ve seen Argo as well, but I can definitely say that Zero Dark Thirty was better in the way the content was portrayed. Because “the hunt for Osama Bin Laden” is still so incredibly recent, the film could’ve easily been an American Propaganda film portraying how horrible the Middle East is, and portraying all Middle Eastern people as terrorists. I felt that Argo portrayed Middle Eastern people that way, and I expected Zero Dark Thirty to be similar in that sense.

    I agree that Bigelow made such a wide-scale situation feel so minimalistic, and the minimalistic aspect of the film made everything work really well. You’re constantly drawn in on the characters and the situation they’re in, that you’re not thinking of anything else. I know a big criticism on the film was the lack of action. Personally, I felt that the amount of action that was in Zero Dark Thirty was on point; no more, no less. Zero Dark Thirty focused strongly on the complexity of the situation, rather than the action packed part of it, which makes the film more realistic.

    Lastly, I think the way Bigelow ended the film was perfect. It was incredibly suspenseful, because you have no idea when someone will shoot or when something could explode; there is no music accompanying the shots, so all you hear are the soldiers walking and talking. I think it’s more suspenseful when you don’t have the music aid to let you know when something will happen. And when Osama Bin Laden gets shot, it happens so fast; there’s no glorious shootout. The most important part of the ending of the film, was how disturbing it was. Seeing the children cry, and women cry over their dead husbands, made me think of what happens to everyone now. The ending of the film is ambiguous, and I think with the content that’s portrayed, it’s the appropriate ending.

  • Simona Nicoara

    Zero dark thirty was a very sharp movie but I feel as if you knew exactly what was going to happen next. There was less tension associated in the movie. In comparison to the other movie The Hurt Locker which I absolutely LOVEE..this movie is pretty amazing. Maya being the main character at the beginning of the film was not comfortable with the torture that was being done to that man, it looked as if she wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do. This film is very powerful, and Maya is a very determined woman. I really liked how Kathryn made her personality very bold and interesting. I think it is very interesting how the CIA called her the “girl”, i feel as if that is under estimating her capabilities. I liked how Maya had changed from the beginning to the end, there were changes in character and power. A lot of crazy things happened to Maya and affected her but she handled it her way, she didn’t let people walk over her anymore and she stood up for what she believed in and her friends. Being a strong woman who knows how to do her job impresses me and not only that it inspires me. I really enjoyed this movie and I think Kathryn has done an amazing job with both !

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