Since today is Independence Day, I decided to re-watch a movie that made me afraid of America. Beware, spoilers below.
First off, let me say that this ranks in my top ten favorite movies of all time. I like movies that make psychological impacts on me, and this is one of them. It chronicles the CIA’s search for Osama bin Laden.
The movie starts off with phone calls from September 11th, 2011. You hear terrified people in the towers calling 911 for help. It sets the tone for the next scene, where you see the CIA torture a detainee in an undisclosed location.
The main character, Maya, is a tenacious CIA operative who first encounters a terrorist named Ammar. Her associate, Dan, attempts to gain information from him that will lead to the capture of more terrorists:
Ammar, bro I know that you know this dude. Just give me his email, and I will give…I will give you a blanket. I will give you a blanket and some solid food. I know that you know him…When you lie to me, I hurt you.
Torture tactics depicted include water-boarding, beating, tying up, being dragged around with a dog collar and leash, and being placed in a box, and nudity. It’s not for the faint of heart.
The war on terror’s slow pace
For the past 12 years, we’ve heard about the “War on Terror.” Maybe you didn’t take too much thought about what it meant. If that’s true, this is a movie you should watch. This movie shows exactly what that process entails.
Contrary to decades of Hollywood pictures, this movie depicts that CIA work is mostly mundane. That might be a problem for some viewers, it’s very paced and intentional (read: realistic). It’s mostly paperwork behind a desk, rather than a handful of super-agent assassins causing chaos behind enemy lines. It’s thousands of people working in cubicles, huge server rooms monitoring international phone calls, Pakistani taxi drivers on payroll, late nights watching film of detainee interrogations, and the occasional operative chasing phone signals around in vans.
Nevertheless, it’s great character development, and suspense throughout. It’s a movie that brings you in with the story, and addresses your real life connection to it. No aliens, no destroyed buildings, no apocalypse.
Jessica Chastain really carried the film. I loved her performance in Tree of Life (a top 5 movie of mine), and Downfall (probably in my top 10 as well). She plays a tenacious, tough, and determined agent that’s been assigned to the team tracking down terrorists, their primary target being the most wanted man in the world, Osama bin Laden. She’s serious, but you can see her humanity seep through. It’s what you should expect though, she’s playing a CIA professional.
I’m not the only one who thinks she did a good job. Jessica was nominated for Best Actress by the Academy in 2012.
Special mention to James Gandolfini, who recently passed away. He was one of those few actors who could walk into any room and make you believe he was the one in charge. He was a great actor, and he will be missed.
Hollywood Turnaround Time
These days, Hollywood is in overdrive. They want your money, and they want it while CNN is still talking about whatever it is they want to make a movie about. From the time a disaster happens to the time they’re willing to make a film about it has dramatically reduced over the years. If something important happens, you can count on a movie being made about it two years later. Case in point: the Steve Jobs movie with Ashton Kutcher.
The movie recounts real life terrorist attacks, and works them into the storyline, some of which you might remember. When you hear about these things on the news, you can’t fathom how they could happen. The movie opens your mind and gives you some context. It’ll make you think twice about how closely a terror attack could have been averted, or even that it could have been because of a misjudgment of one of our own.
I remember the day they caught Bin Laden, I was sitting in church when I got a notification from CNN on my iPhone. It said that a team of Navy Seals and CIA operatives had stormed into Bin Laden’s hideout and killed him, and President Obama would be making an official announcement soon. I whispered over to my friend what happened.
On the drive home I remember thinking to myself, “What am I doing here? I’m sitting safe in America, while dangerous men are risking their lives and doing exploits in the sands of Arabia.” I had a mini career crisis in my car.
My girlfriend could see the look on my face as I watched the movie. She knows me. She knows I would totally love to be the highly trained operative in the van chasing down the phone signal, or confronting Pakistani gangs, and joining in on the final raid. She just looked at me and said, “No.” Seriously, she did, in the middle of the theater. Ask her.
Blonde White Girl
The smartest person in the entire movie was a blonde girl, upon whom I bestow the honor of “Honorary Black Person” or HBP. A man exited a vehicle and said “Allahu Akbar,” with an evil look on his face, while not responding to orders from men with guns to take his hands out of his pockets. This girl booked it out of there it like, “Ain’t nobody got time for no Allahu Akbar’s up in here!” Everyone else, though just stood around shocked, hoping that “Allahu Akbar” didn’t mean a suicide attack was underway. She’s the only one who survived. Welcome to the family, white girl. You made a tense moment in the movie hilarious for me!
In the movie, the Seals get to go to Area 51 to use an experimental stealth chopper. I almost peed myself. “Whaaaa, they get to go to Area 51??? Why am I not a SEAL?” I grew up in the 90’s so Area 51 is sort of a big deal to me. I don’t know how many birthday parties I attended at Peter Piper Pizza and played the shooting game Area 51. It even had a cameo in Independence Day. As far as I know, no one cares about Area 51 anymore. And why would you, when yoga pants and iPads are a thing now?
I have always loved and respected the United States of America. It’s my home. I pledged allegiance every day at school. I go to church here, I met my fiancee here. I’m a citizen.
Since 9-11, I’ve had conflicted feelings over the United States ability to find and kill anyone they want, anywhere in the world, and the need for vengeance upon Osama bin Laden. I studied the way the FBI took down the Mob, and I know the reason they won is because the United States is simply a bigger, more organized mob family.
We think of terrorists as these back woods uneducated martyrs, but there’s a great deal of money and organization behind them. It took the greatest country in the world 10 years to track down a man who became a ghost. The United States secretly invaded another country’s airspace without them knowing, with Seal Team 6, and some stealth choppers from Area 51. On top of all of that, Obama, Hilary, and some other high ranking officials were able to watch the entire raid live from the White House from cameras mounted to the Seals Helmets.
They found him, killed him, and gave him a proper Muslim burial at sea.
The lesson I learned from this movie: Don’t let the United States want you dead.
Overall, I rate the movie a 4 out of 5 stars. It has a big first impact, but it doesn’t have the same replay value that say, Jurassic Park has.
God bless America, and Happy 4th of July!