Zero Dark Thirty II: Special Operations

With its gripping portait of the SEAL Team 6 raid to kill Osama Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty joins the ranks of recent films that reflect Hollywood’s love for special operations derring-do.  I’m thinking of Act of Valor, which isn’t even set in Iraq or Afghanistan (that’s curious right there) and which has racked up a not-so sterling 25% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m thinking of The Objective, a little known and undeniably loopy sci-fi war film that tracks a Special Forces mission gone terribly wrong in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. Against such lame competition, it’s not hard for Zero Dark Thirty to excel. The pleasure is exactly how well the film captures the testosterone-infused chill of the SEALs as they lounge around their base camp and their easy-going professionalism when they swing into action.

The one funny line in all of Zero Dark Thirty comes from the mouth of a SEAL team member midway through the raid in Abbottabad. “I forgot,” he jokes just before the final assault, “was crashing a helicopter part of the plan?” Perfect.

Hollywood’s interest in special forces operations mirrors a truth that vexes national strategy debates and on-the-ground operations in theater. Counterinsurgency, nation-building, and drone strikes are all good, in their way, but dark side snatch-and-grabs are far sexier and arguably more effective.

So, in the midst of all this special ops love I eagerly await the arrival of the film version of Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor later this year. Starring Mark Wahlberg as Luttrell and Taylor Kitsch (of Friday Night Lights) as the magnificent Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, and directed by Peter Berg (also of Friday Night Lights), it has a chance to be really good, or at least really interesting. Lone Survivor is the story of a SEAL mission in Afghanistan in which Lieutenant Murphy earned the Medal of Honor.  The mission cost three of the four SEALs involved their lives.  No disrespect to Lieutenant Murphy—it’s when things go wrong that heroes emerge—but the irony of Lone Survivor’s reception as an American success story should not be lost on a filmmaker as talented as Berg. With Lone Survivor, we might begin to get the human and tactical sides of special operations in some of their complexity.

Then again, Berg also directed Battleship, which like The Objective tried to combine the movie genres of war and science fiction and failed just as miserably.  What’s up with that???

SEAL Team 6 personnel chilling between missions, as portrayed in Zero Dark Thirty. Life is good.

SEAL Team 6 personnel chilling between missions, as portrayed in Zero Dark Thirty.

SEAL Team 6 in action, from Zero Dark Thirty.

SEAL Team 6 in action, from Zero Dark Thirty.

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2 Comments on “Zero Dark Thirty II: Special Operations”

  1. John Says:

    Peter

    I just read that a documentary about Micheal Murphy is coming out .

    The title is “Murph: The Protector”

    • Peter Molin Says:

      John: Right you are–the movie has already been reviewed positively by the Washington Post and the New York Times. From Sean O’Connell’s Washington Post review: “It’s also worth pointing out the irony of Murph: The Protector opening in theaters opposite Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, a testosterone-soaked cartoon of an action movie that casts Gerard Butler as a lone-wolf soldier tasked with rescuing the president (Aaron Eckhart) when terrorists attack the White House. Stoic documentaries won’t replace Hollywood’s overblown odes to patriotic heroism any time soon. But by celebrating an actual American hero, Murph reminds audiences that bells and whistles, budgets and effects aren’t necessary so long as filmmakers have human stories of bravery and valor to tell.”


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