Tag Archives: CIA

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Review: Bridge Of Spies

ST. JAMES PLACE

Tom Hanks plays James Donovan, a lawyer in the middle of the height of the Cold War, in Bridge Of Spies. Mark Rylance (centre) steals the show as his subject.

Bridge Of Spies is a Spielberg drama I missed out on seeing during its original theatrical release. I only saw it once it was a choice on a flight I took heading home. It was a good choice.

The film begins in 1957 with Rudolf Abel arrested by CIA agents as he’s trying to read a secret message. He is taken away but is able to keep the message. As Abel awaits trial, American lawyer James Donovan is assigned to defend him. The US government believes him to be a KGB spy but Donovan wants to have a fair trial because an unfair trial may be used as propaganda in the USSR. Donovan meets Abel whom is very welcoming to Donovan but will not cooperate with the US Government for any revelations in the intelligence world.

Donovan knows he has a heavy task in defending Abel. He’s serious about it but no one, not even his closest family, expects him to make a strong defense for Abel. Nevertheless Donovan is persistent and continues to seek acquittal for Abel despite an angry American public, persistent hate mail and threats on the lives of him and his family. Abel is found guilty on all charges. Before sentencing, Donovan asks the judge that Abel receive a prison sentence of 30 years instead of the death penalty because he feels Abel may become a bargaining chip with the Soviet Union. Further difficulties continue as Donovan is unable to win a Supreme Court case where evidence against Abel was tainted by an invalid search warrant.

Meanwhile two innocent Americans find themselves in the hands of Communists. One is US air force pilot Francis Powers whose plane is just shot down between the USSR-Turkish border. He’s able to escape his doomed plane and tries to steer his parachute into Turkey but fails and becomes captive. The other is Frederic Pryor, an American economics student studying in Germany just as the Berlin Wall is being built. He studies in West Berlin but has a girlfriend in East Berlin. He tried to bring her with him to the West but is arrested as a spy.

News gets to Donovan of the two men arrests. He’s even offered a deal from the USSR of the exchange of Abel for Powers. Donovan is insisting in a 2-for-1 deal of exchanging Abel for both Powers and Pryor. However he has the challenge of dealing with Soviet agents and a CIA that’s interested in only getting Powers back. The whole deal puts the governments of three nations– East Germany, the USA and the USSR– in a heated debate with Donovan make the outcome work out right. The end result is historic.

This is yet another film about war Steven Spielberg does focus on. There have been many films of the theme of war he’s done in his career. The wars he have depicted on screen have spanned time from World War II in Empire Of The Sun and Saving Private Ryan to World War I in The War Horse to the Civil War in Lincoln to even revenge missions in Munich.

Here he tackles a war that’s less about brutality but more about ideology and had victims of their own: the Cold War. Although there wasn’t as much blood shed, the Cold War did put a sense of paralyzing fear in the world, especially in the United States, with a possibility of nuclear war and armageddon. Thus the ‘duck and cover’ scene. Ask anyone over the age of 60 about doing all those ‘duck and cover’ practices at school. People were constantly being suspected as spies on both sides and there were reactions of hysteria to those accused of spying or treason. The construction of the Berlin Wall at a time when Germany was divided between the capitalist West and the Communist East is an example of the war.

The story takes us back to the 1950’s at a time when Cold War hysteria was at its highest. Neither side could be trusted if one from the other country came in to visit. That explains why even innocent visitors could be seen with suspicion. People arrested as spies for the other side were huge headline news. Most of the public wanted them dead with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg still fresh in their minds. It’s easy to see why someone like James Donovan would be so easily vilified by the American public and even face a possible shooting. The film shows why James’ efforts in the prisoner trade were necessary in the Cold War. It was something that was able to ease some tension on both sides.

Spielberg does a very good job of showing what the Cold War was like. Instead of showing fighting that’s common in the wars, he focuses on the more tense moments of the Cold War and captures its tense feel most people of that time felt. The screenwriting by Matt Charman and the Coen brothers was very good in providing insight to the moments in history and keeping the key elements of the situation. It didn’t focus too much on Jim’s personal life but it did focus on his efforts and even on the prisoners themselves. It may lack some historical accuracy but it does provide knowledge and keep the audience intrigued. Its one glitch is that it had too sweet of an ending. I don’t think it ended on the right note.

Tom Hanks was very good as Jim Donovan but it’s not at the same level as his most stellar roles. The biggest scene-stealer of the film was Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel. He not only matched Abel physically but also gave him character with his love for art and his ability to say persuasive things. Other good supporting performances came from Amy Ryan as Jim’s wife and Alan Alda as Thomas Watters. Janusz Kaminski did a very good job of cinematography, the production designers did a very good job of recreating the 1950’s and 1960’s with their sets and Thomas Newman delivered a very good score to the film.

Bridge Of Spies is very much a story about a lawyer and his pursuits but also the times he had to deal with. Reminds you of some of the political tensions and paranoia that’s currently happening now. Spielberg does a good job of capturing the feel of the intensity as well as the political climate of the story.

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Oscars 2012 Best Picture Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a woman who means business in Zero Dark Thirty.

Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a fearless CIA agent who means business in Zero Dark Thirty.

-So Patrick, be honest with me. You really believe this story? I mean…Osama bin Laden?

-Yeah.

-What part convinced you?

-Her confidence.

9/11 movies aren’t very successful and rarely are they good. I don’t know if Zero Dark Thirty can rightfully be called a 9/11 movie but boy does it deliver well. Many can argue it’s the best film of the year.

The film opens in 2003 as a prisoner Amar, who is believed to have connections to Saudi terrorists, is questioned brutally by CIA officer Dan at the US embassy in Pakistan on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. He is joined by a young CIA officer, Maya, who has spent her entire brief career on intelligence related to Osama. Maya assists Dan in his humiliating torture on Amar at the black site until he confesses the name of Osama’s personal courier: Abu Ahmed. Other detainees corroborate the claim with some claiming there’s a middle-man between the two named Abu Faraj. Abu Faraj is captured in 2005 and Maya is able to interrogate him under torturous conditions. He denies Abu Ahmed but Maya suspects a cover-up.

The whole scenario is one long puzzle from 2003 to 2011 where Maya is trying to connect the pieces. Maya is trying to determine the identity of Abu Ahmed and trying to track his whereabouts or even existence with every piece of communication she can find. She interrogates prisoners. She searches for clues with every further incident associated with al-Qaeda that happens. During the time she’s able to go from a rookie CIA officer to a veteran over that period.

However the dark cloud keeps on lingering. Osama is still at large and sending tapes to al-Qaeda of his latest messages for broadcast. Terrorist attacks continue like the 2005 London bombings and the 2008 Islamabad Marriott bombings in which Maya is actually in the hotel dining with her friend Jessica and colleague. Both survive despite the explosion blowing a massive hole in the street. Even Maya survives being shot at.

It isn’t until the 2009 Camp Chapman attacks where a suicide bomber kills nine CIA agents including Jessica that marks a turning point. It’s there in a meeting with all those involved including Jessica that the head is disappointed with all and even humiliated that these many years have passed and Osama is still not caught. Terrorist attacks continue. None of the traces come up positive. Agents even concluded that Maya’s claim of Abu Ahmed is long dead and now a false trail. Soon Maya receives a lead from a researcher of the identity of Abu Ahmed. It isn’t until Maya is able to get a trace to the mother’s phone and even a sense of the use of tradecraft that the man really is Abu Ahmed and residing in an urban compound near a Pakistani military academy.

Months of heavy surveillance by the CIA fail to prove that bin Laden is there. Even Maya writes the number of ongoing days on her boss’ window. Finally a mission is planned to capture bin Laden in the compound but can only receive approval from Obama if it’s confirmed he’s there. Most of the CIA agents give certainty estimates ranging from 60 to 80% but Maya is 100% certain he’s there. The raid is given approval by President Obama on May 2nd. What takes place is history in the making. What is shown in the film will surprise even those most knowledgeable of the hunt for bin Laden.

The best thing about this movie is that it’s many things in one. It’s the story of the trace for the most wanted man in the world. It’s the story of a nation on a mission that’s long, complicating and frustrating as time goes by without success. It’s the story of one woman and her search to find that man. This is a multifaceted story that packs a lot into it. We see with each passing year and each passing additional terrorist attack committed by al-Qaeda how the search for Osama has to be done and how frustrating it is. We see from the people inside the government agencies the frustration they go through to find Osama with each passing year and with each additional terrorist attack. We also see from Maya her pursuit to find Osama through her computer work, questioning of those connected with al-Qaeda and her mappings out. But we also see her own personal involvement in the matter. She witnesses and questions the tortured prisoner. She’s with her friend and colleague in a hotel when an explosion happens. She loses that friend in another bomb explosion. She’s at the camp site when the mission to catch Osama is launched. This is as much Maya’s story and the U.S.’s story as it is about the hunt for Osama.

The funny thing is no one knows the identity of Maya. Many say she’s a certain different woman. Some say Maya is actually a combination of characters. All I can say is after this movie, she will be to the hunt for bin Laden what Deep Throat was to Watergate and we may never know her true identity until 30 or 40 years or even after her death. Only time will tell.

One thing to say about Zero Dark Thirty is that it has a lot of furious message board activity wherever anything to do about the movie is discussed; not just IMDB. I myself believe that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda did in fact cause the 9/11 invasions and destruction. I refute the claims of the 9/11 ‘truthers’ because I’ve done my own research. I’ve known of terrorist acts before 9/11 committed by al-Qaeda ordered by Osama and of terrorist acts since. I have read the news and have kept on top of things from the start of 9/11 to the various intermittent terrorist attacks to al-Qaeda’s acknowledgement of the death of Osama bin Laden. I’m not afraid to dismiss the claims of “9/11 was an inside job” for the garbage that I see it to be.

I’m not sorry I believe this and I refuse to consider myself a sheep. In fact I consider the ‘truthers’ that declare 9/11 to be an inside job out loud to be propagandists instead of truthers. They care more about media attention through their opportunistic public demonstrations and violent destruction of public property than they do about the truth coming out. Sometimes it left me wondering if left-wingers love calling everything a lie. Hey I’m from Vancouver: the leftist crap-disturber capital of the world–Right, Harsha Walia?– and they’ve given me every reason to think that way about them. Osama and al-Qaeda carried the acts of 9/11 out. Osama was brought to justice by being killed May 1, 2011. They should keep their media whore cravings to themselves. Hey, don’t get me wrong; I’m all for free-thinking. But don’t shove it down my throat as the truth! I’ll decide the truth for myself. Besides I’ve been on message boards long enough to know message boards are so full of clowns, who needs a circus?

Also on message boards are people saying how the movie doesn’t denounce violence towards prisoners of war. Let me remind you this movie is to tell the story as it happens. It owes nobody an anti-prisoner violence message. Besides as far as war goes, we are living in a time with the closest to humane methods of war. We didn’t have ‘smart’ weapons back in the past as we do now. Up until 50 years ago we didn’t show concern for innocent civilian deaths. And back then we didn’t care how prisoners of war were treated. War was war, the enemy was the enemy and a POW was a POW. Osama had a huge network of colleagues carrying out his actions and torture was necessary. Besides have we forgotten this is prison?

Without a doubt the movie was all Jessica Chastain’s. Her performance of Maya was a very 3D role of a woman who had feelings but had to be tough both emotionally and mentally to find Osama after such a long search for him. That scene at the very end when she sees ‘her mission accomplished’ was especially remarkable. It will be no surprise if Jessica wins the Oscar this year. It’s not to say that Jessica was the only good performance. Jason Clarke’s performance as Dan and Jennifer Ehle’s performance as Jessica was also good too. Chastain’s brilliant performance however couldn’t have been done firstly without the excellent direction of Kathryn Bigelow and the writing of Mark Boal. I have to say that Kathryn Bigelow has to be the most fearless director in Hollywood and Zero Dark Thirty shows how fearless she can be in touching very touchy subject matter. Mark Boal is also just as fearless. He’s a former journalist who has written books and news articles on the Iraq War. He would also go on to write the screenplay for Bigelow’s other fearless film The Hurt Locker. Its critical accolades and Oscar success helped make a name for both Boal and Bigelow. Both team up again here and they both deliver excellently.

Another interesting note is Zero Dark Thirty’s box office run. The first Bigelow/Boal film The Hurt Locker won the 2009 Best Picture Oscar but only grossed $17 million at the US box office: the lowest gross for a Best Picture winner since 1960’s The Apartment. Zero Dark Thirty is another Bigelow/Boal film that packs a lot of punch and this time it pays off at the US box office as it currently has grossed $78.6 million as of press time and its chances of passing $100 million look healthy. Great to see.

Zero Dark Thirty takes a piece of history that we all know and gives us some things we didn’t know. The outcome is the most fearless film of 2012 and one of the best films of the year. Definitely worth seeing.

Osama Bin Laden’s Death Doesn’t Make The World Safer

The news came unexpectedly on May 1, 2011. Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi hermit and terrorist leader of Al-Qaeda who was the master mind of the attacks on US soil on September 11,2001, was finally found and killed. He had been on the run from the law and taunting the US by videotape for 9 1/2 years until he was finally caught and killed. Reactions have been numerous and varied. One thing is for sure, that his death leaves an uncertain question about the safety of the world, particularly the United States.

 Before September 11, 2001, the world was not a safe happy place. The World was a place that was already as precautionary as it felt to be. Airline terrorism had been a reality for almost 40 years and prevention procedures were already in place and carried out as best as they did. Terrorism from Muslim extremists, especially against the US, had been known for years. Until then the biggest terrorist attack on US soil from foreigners was the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center which left six dead but failed to bring the two towers down. Osama bin Laden was actually already on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. His connection to money and his ability to access arms was already legendary. He formed and headed the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, which means ‘the foundation’. He helped to empower the Taliban in Afghanistan and they would become his biggest ally.  He was the admitted mastermind of the 1998 US Embassy bombings: the August 7, 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya that left hundreds dead. He had already been known for making a ‘death wish’ against the United States for his wish to see every American dead. In 1999, just two years before 9/11, Bill Clinton had already encouraged sanctions against Afghanistan in an attempt to extradite him. Weeks before 9/11, bin Laden promised in a videotape a ‘great day of terror’ to the United States.

Then 9/11 happened. Terrorists with flight training knowledge committed possibly the most shocking terrorist attack ever. The Two Towers destroyed by terrorists in a Kamikaze-style attack. Part of the Pentagon was also destroyed by a plane attack. A fourth plane meant for the Camp David site crashed outside it thanks to the vigilantism of American passengers. In the aftermath, thousands of Americans were dead. The world’s airline system was shut down for days. Memorial services were conducted all around the world. Some Arab countries and Arab peoples considered it a great victory for them and punishment from Allah to the US. Bin Laden himself acknowledged the attacks and praised the ‘martyrs’ in the attacks. He promised more in the future and promised never to get caught. Soon President George W. Bush declared war in Afghanistan against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Bin Laden was now the World’s Most Wanted man.

Even while at large for years, Osama still had access to money and had a huge worldwide group of allies with the ability to carry out a terrorist attack anywhere in the World at any given time. The war in Afghanistan and the subsequent war in Iraq have fueled further attacks since. Osama’s Al-Qaeda have carried many terrorist acts out since that have left a total of hundreds dead: the 2004 Madrid Train bombings; the 2005 attacks in London; two bombings in Algiers in 2007; the 2008 bombing of the Danish embassy in Pakistan; a 2009 shooting in Little Rock; and two failed bombing attempts.

You could say the world has changed a lot since 9/11. Arabic words we never knew before are now part of our everyday language. Airline security has become more advanced and becomes increasingly stricter after additional foiled terrorist attempts. We have no-fly lists. We have a colored alert system whenever a terrorist threat appears coming. Right-wing and left-wing politics in the United States have increased in their division. We have a ‘Patriot Act’ which claims to be a prevention to terrorism. We had a terrorist list introduced in attempts to catch those connected to the bombings or terrorist associations. There have even been conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 attacks with protesters seeking attention for their cause. A lot has changed in the past ten years. The one thing that remained unchanged during that time was Osama bin Laden was alive and still at large. His lack of access to any means of modern technology besides a personal courier helped keep him from being found for years. He was capable of orchestrating terrorist attacks and shelling out videos to Al Jazeera television while remaining at large from authorities. Billions of dollars and cooperation from many nations failed to capture bin Laden. But on May 2, 2011, that all changed.

On May 2, 2011 in Pakistan (still May 1 back in the US), Osama had been killed by shots to the head and chest by an operation ordered by Barack Obama on his compuond some 40 miles from Islamabad, Pakistan. This operation was conducted by Navy SEALs under the command by the Joint Special Operations Command in cooperation with the CIA. It will forever be remembered at Operation Neptune Spear. Many other associates of Bin Laden, including his courier, one son and two others, were also killed. Soon after the killing, his body was taken to Afghanistan for identification and confirmation, then buried him at sea within 24 hours.

Reaction around the world was almost immediate. US President Barack Obama made the address on US television with the phrase “Justice has been done.” There was cheering in the streets, especially in New York around the area where the Twin Towers stood. Many Americans, especially those who lost loved ones on 9/11, were met with relieve that the killer had finally been brought to justice. There’s also cynicism too. Some conspiracy theorists are adding to the claim it’s a conspiracy. Many are demanding that the ‘death photo’ be shown. In the Arab World, reactions were mixed. Pakistan is denying ‘hiding’ bin Laden since his compound was so close to the capital of Islamabad. Some were happy of his death. Others were hurt and angry that their hero had been killed by the Americans.

It is because of the latter reactions that it’s too soon to believe that the world is a safer place now that Osama is gone. Both Obama and Bush have stated that. We should not forget that Al-Qaeda was a group built on revenge. That is why they carried out their terrorist attacks. Osama even stated that the 9/11 attacks were for revenge of all the Arab blood. Osama has also stated in previous tapes that he had people to carry on his mission even after his death. Even Al-Qaeda promised revenge shortly after acknowledging Osama’s death. That is the top reason why the US won’t release the death photo of Osama. Plus with Al-Qaeda spread so far out around the world, including countries like the US and Canada, there’s no telling when and where the next terrorist attack will happen. Also there’s no telling who from Al-Qaeda would be the new mastermind and there will be no telling what new security precautions will result because of this. So the terrorism precautions used shortly after 9/11 still have to be in effect. Also airlines have to maintain top professionalism and security competence to keep any further security risks. we should not forget that part of the 9/11 attacks’ success was taking advantage of the security ‘weak spots’ at airports.

While millions of people are probably still celebrating Osama’s death, the celebrations can’t last for long. The next ten, possibly twenty, years will tell whether this was a smart movie for the US to carry out. I personally wanted to see Osama arrested, tried by a World tribunal court, and executed. Also the next years will tell whether Al-Qaeda was in fact weakened by Osama’s death or only grew stronger and wider. Only time will tell.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Osama Bin Laden. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osama_bin_Laden>

WIKIPEDIA: Death Of Osama Bin Laden. Wikipedia.com. 2011.Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Osama_bin_Laden>