Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"With Your Velcro And All Your Gear"

At the one minute mark in the video below 'Zero Dark Thirty' is referred to as a movie by director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal. That's rare -- when a writer's name gets equal billing. And, that happens across the web in just about any movie blog write up about ZDT. You see it all the time: 'Zero Dark Thirty' is a Bigelow/Boal movie.

Why? Because Boal's writing is that good and, here, we get another snippet of his excellent dialogue. I believe it's edited -- we don't get all the words -- but it's still very nice.

At about 2:30 Maya (Jessica Chastain in another badass bit) says, "I didn't even want to use you guys. With your Velcro and all your gear. I wanted to drop a bomb."

So...what's so special about that? What's special is it says more than the sum of its parts. With just a few words Boal has gotten us deep into the scene. Another writer would have been obvious and spelled out what Maya was thinking. Another writer would probably not have thought it was that special a moment and we would have gotten more words than we needed, and they would, in all likelihood, have communicated less. The scene would have come off less energized, less sharply cut (no matter who directed), more mundane -- a bit of a filler.

Something as incidental as Velcro would never have been mentioned. The writer would have deemed it beneath his professional orientation to use such a word. Here, though, Velcro symbolizes the nitty gritty of putting boots on the ground, the risks inherent to sending a Seal team, and the messy results that would surely follow.

When Maya says 'Velcro' you think of the grating 'shink' that comes with using this material, but you also get a sense of its utilitarian nature. Guys that use Velcro are either dorks who don't care how they look or dress, or they're experts who need it to execute their mission. The Seal team, certainly, would be the latter.

Maya never calls this man an 'expert' but we know (or hope) he is simply because he uses Velcro. (Yeah, it's that dumb, and that good). Nothing she says indicates how well she knows him yet we understand they have an intimate relationship, even if they just met because Maya would rather 'drop a bomb' than send this guy and his Velcro-shinking team. Maya displays no overt technical savvy, yet it's clear she knows field operations -- Can you tell me how a Seal utilizes Velcro and why? She doesn't say anything that could, objectively, be called ballsy but it's pretty clear she's willing to go toe-to-toe with anyone. This is due to one word and that defines her character better than any long-winded speech, no matter how well crafted. When Maya says 'Velcro' it reveals an agenda and her concerns, is dramatic without being stagy, and it's entertaining.

Boal's writing is between the lines. It gets under your skin and draws you in without being writerly or technique-y. It's effective yet elusive. You feel its effect but don't sense it makes a show of its construction or intent.

Thanks to Boal, Bigelow is given something to work with, even down to the frame level, and we get lines like this and images like the one above. I'm betting Boal's script says something like "Maya's reflection is set against a framed American flag." Visually and wordlessly, this shot says something about what Maya stands for. Apparently, nothing is going on -- she's just standing there -- but there's a lot happening. That's good writing given life by a good director. That's sly and clever and you don't get that too often in movies these days.


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