Kathyrn Bigelow said she was going to make a film about the capture of Usama Bin Laden, otherwise known as UBL, and true to her claim, she has created a mesmerizing and captivating experience for cinema spectators. The film opens in San Francisco January 4.
Bigelow spent years speaking with intelligence officers for behind the scenes information for her film. The story is realistic though a bit dense with a host of Middle Eastern operations and characters that are difficult to navigate for the novice.
"Dark Zero Thirty" is the story of a persistent young woman in the CIA whose sharpened acumen and intuition helps put together the teams that will eventually track and shoot to kill the leader of al-Qaeda in May 2011, the man responsible for the deaths of over 3,000 people at the World Trade Center a decade ago.
Maya, a name, which means illusion, is played by Jessica Chastain and her character is based on a real life person who the film's scriptwriter Mark Boal met. Maya seems misplaced in the interrogation camps in the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan. She is a rookie who in real life joined the CIA in 2001 and first worked as a "targeter", an officer who recruits 'targets' as spies or for drone strikes. When the trail for UBL eventually heated up years later, she focused on discovering his whereabouts. Her theory was that there were a series of couriers who got messages to UBL and she tried to understand the pattern to be able to pinpoint his location in Pakistan.
In the film she seems to be almost the sole woman in the CIA in Pakistan with the exception of Jennifer Ehle who plays the CIA officer Jessica, a field officer and a younger rookie who has heard about Maya’s ingenuity.
The pursuit of the mastermind of al-Qaeda is complicated because UBL's tracks are so well-laid and it takes years of searching to finally follow a key figure who will lead the CIA to him, or rather that will lead Maya to the fugitive. Even when there is 60 percent certainty of his whereabouts, it takes months to put the plan into operation. Maya believes the odds are 100 percent and is impatient.
The nearly all male upper echelon of CIA operatives eventually begins to put their faith in Maya’s intelligence work. The Head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, played by the gruff James Gandolfini, is a man of few words, mostly expletives, which seems a little simplistic. The other head officers seem like bungling, ineffective opportunists.
When Maya is in a cell with the ruthless interrogator, Dan (Jason Clark), she seems like she will break from the shock of the cruelty. Afterwards she claims the outfit is pretty screwed up, but eventually she shows she has the strength, leadership skills and interrogation elocution of a first class intelligence operator. She is not a torturer. The torture scenes are gruesome and there is always the undercurrent of the long cherished myth that the US does not torture prisoners. It does. The skillful placement of Maya in the midst of crude interrogation methods demonstrates how the filmmakers opposed this.
Worth mentioning is the magnificent film score of Alexandre Desplat performed by the London Symphonic Orchestra that reels you in to just how incredibly important this mission was, nearly a decade after the terrorist attack. The screenplay by Mark Boal is fine even though the male characters often seem like geeks, which makes it pretty easy to centerfold Maya. In real life, Maya was undermined by the men of the CIA and was passed over for promotion and pay hikes. The makers of "Dark Zero Thirty" spent a lot of time with the woman and other CIA operatives, something which has been since criticized as a breech of national security. The film was slated for release before the presidential election, which was considered a partisan ploy. It wouldn't have been. UBL has been around for four presidential terms - both of the Bushes, Clinton, and Obama. But for anyone looking at this film, the sense of completion it provides surpasses any bickering about why it was made and how it was made.
Foremost in the center of course is Barack Obama whose administration can claim the victory of hunting down one of the most dangerous men in history, and behind the trail that led US soldiers to the fortress where UBL hid, were the brilliant efforts of Maya.