Zero Dark Thirty
Zero Dark Thirty is an effective blend of logic and emotion, fact and fiction in depicting the decade long search for Osama Bin Laden. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker is another drama concerning the military, likewise based on a script by Mark Boal. It starts with a black screen and real recordings of people taken from the World Trade Center on 9/11. Not that we need to rouse feeling for that unforgettable event, it is nevertheless an opening that seizes attention at once. Zero Dark Thirty is the subsequent search for the man behind that terrorist plot.
The thriller filters the saga through the efforts of a young CIA Officer named Maya. Jessica Chastain gives an inspiring performance and one through which the developments are filtered. In this document, we are hit with jargon and technical detail. When she’s first introduced, she appears to be a side character, an observer of Dan, her CIA mentor and Navy Seal, memorably played by Jason Clarke. In a movie where methods are emphasized over personalities, he’s one that stands out. He employs “enhanced interrogation techniques” on a detainee to extract information. As the story progresses we realize Maya is our main protagonist. Her unwavering drive to find the terrorist is her focus. The movie turns into the ultimate procedural, in which various clues must be investigated involving computer work, photographs and informants.
“Enhanced interrogation techniques” is a euphemism that includes torture, specifically waterboarding but also entails tactics such as sleep deprivation and humiliation. I wont debate on whether these methods were used because it’s a controversial question with different answers depending on who you ask.. However I will say they are merely presented without support or opposition. To concentrate solely on waterboarding or other coercive techniques that were used by the CIA is really to discount the many other leads and bits of intelligence that the CIA used in determining the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. That’s a very small part of this story.
The narrative brilliantly uses judiciously placed action to galvanize your outrage. One particularly intense scene involves CIA agent Jessica played by Jennifer Ehle and her discovery of a mole, a Jordanian doctor. The breakthrough develops into something that highlights the constant danger that these CIA operatives were under. Their big break becomes a galvanizing incident for the audience. It furthers the anger that 9/11 provoked. Granted there is a definite desire to stop further attacks, but there’s also an acknowledged element of revenge that the moment stirs within the viewer. It allows us to share in Maya’s defeats and increase our understanding of what drives her.
Naturally the struggle to find bin Laden was a 10 year objective that encompasses hundreds of people. Maya is important because she gives the fight a face with which to identify. When she finally feels she has a solid lead on bin Laden’s actual location, she urges the military to strike with an elite force. But the argument of whether they can follow that revelation is a measured discussion rooted in the possible uncertainty that could have dire repercussions if they’re wrong. She’s relatable because she doesn’t seem superhuman, although she has the resolute strength of her convictions. We completely understand her motivation in making these terrorist acts stop immediately. There’s a running gag where she writes the number of days elapsed since they’ve extracted this vital information and nothing has happened. Her frustration is understandable and so we are drawn to her. She’s human and likable.
History has already shown how this mission ends. Yet that doesn’t lesson the tension or excitement. It’s telling that despite the fact that we know this was a success, we are still fascinated by the way it unfolds. Through a blending of action sequences interspersed with data gathering and policy, we get a nuanced portrait. Zero dark thirty is a military designation for an unspecified time after midnight but before sunrise. Here it refers to the time in the dead of night that the raid of Navy SEALs invaded Bin Laden’s Pakistan compound. The final third of this procedural culminates in the pulse pounding depiction of that raid on the building . It’s an incredibly satisfying ending to everything we’ve watched leading up to that point. This is a movie not a documentary. As with a subject that is shrouded in a high level of secrecy, one must approach the film with a healthy level of skepticism. CIA officials have admitted to conferring with film-makers on the project but insist that the finished picture is a dramatization as opposed to a historical record. And while Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t quite delve as deeply into personalities, the thriller’s information based structure is endlessly entertaining in presenting this fascinating story.