Gratuitous controversy – It’s amazing how politicians will do anything to try to limit any so-called ‘good’ praise for the president. And that fact can be traced back to more than the current administration, but to slam President Obama for “taking” credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden is ridiculous. Anyone that watched Obama’s press conference on May 2, 2011 announcing this feat knows this and yet, we still had controversy. Maybe it’s unavoidable, which is fine, but to tarnish “Zero Dark Thirty” for all this is out of line when all Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow wanted was to credit all that was involved in accomplishing this historic goal. And from where I sat, that’s exactly what they did in this all too revealing thriller.
The story here…believe it or not changed a few times over before becoming what we see unfold on screen. The result is one that focuses primarily on the efforts of one aspiring CIA officer Maya (Jessica Chastain) who stops at nothing to finish her goal of finding and killing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. This was her only job for virtually 12 years, a time that saw a lot of ups and downs, including two separate attempts on her life. But, in the end she got her guy and did it like no one had thought of or had done before. Call it beginner’s luck if you want, but Maya was no dummy in how she drove this investigation after picking it up from fellow CIA Officer Dan (Jason Clarke) who needed a break after years of ruthless and dead-end interrogation mission’s. She instead focused on courier’s that could possibly be delivering messages to al-Qaeda leader’s like bin Laden somewhere near or far. And in that, she found some leads, not all good of course, but leads that would eventually drive her to find Abu Ahmed and the large suburban compound he dwelled at in Pakistan. A compound that after several months of intense surveillance was believed to also hold Osama bin Laden, a fact Maya could not effectively confirm until the body of the worlds’ #1 terrorist was lying in front of her after a raid of his compound by U.S. Navy SEALs.
Who was in it? For a film like “Zero Dark Thirty,” the cast can be one of those aspects that either helps tell the story or simply falls to the waist side. Here, it kind of did both, but in a good way considering the talent involved. That’s not to say we shouldn’t lift up the work performed by countless individuals with no name, it’s just to point out that the star to this cast was the one being shot at the very end. Sorry, but it’s true given the incredible journey that took place to complete this mission by our own CIA. Having said that, I would be a fool not to mention Jessica Chastain and her fearless work in this dynamic role. I can only imagine how challenging it was to portray a woman you never had a chance to meet or learn from. But, to her credit she pulled it off and showed another side to her that I never expected to see after watching some of her previous films. That’s no slight on her resume, just the truth of what appeared to be a curious hire by Bigelow at first. So, while I could easily make a case for a number of different actresses to play this role, Chastain was the one chosen. And it was her character’s own vulnerability and steadfast determination that let the audience into this incredible untold story, one that deserves to be nominated.
Boal-ing for strikes – For anyone that does not know who Mark Boal, let me properly introduce you. He’s the guy that gave us the Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker,” and now is the guy that has given us “Zero Dark Thirty.” For anyone that likes good writing, just watch these two films because without Boal, they would be nothing. Plain and simple, he is the gas that makes this Bigelow-Boal combination run so well; because it’s his research and knowledge that bleeds out through this script. Sure, Kathryn Bigelow clearly as an eye for these type of films, having now succeeded with two of them, but I just can’t envision the same success without Boal. He was the driving force and here produced an entirely different kind of drama than what we saw in “The Hurt Locker.” Because much of this story centered on the events that lead up to finding and killing Osama bin Laden, not necessarily the planning of the raid. So for all those that were hoping for more action, this is not the film, as much of the intrigue and drama was within the politics that surrounded this operation.
Having said that, the final climactic sequence containing the aforementioned raid was unbelievable to watch, starting with the stealth flight through the Sarban hills and finishing in the close confines of bin Laden’s compound. I mean, the pure detail put into this raid and compound by Bigelow was uncanny, as it truly was about as real as it gets. I liken it to controlled chaos, as each SEAL moved methodically through the pitch black compound, all the while of not knowing what was around the next corner. The result is well documented, but never shown in a manner like this. So, I do credit Bigelow for unleashing a whole new level of intensity, as you felt as if you were walking right beside those SEALs.
Bottom Line – “Zero Dark Thirty” is one of those films that people should watch, not for its entertainment value, but for its historical value. Because that’s what this film is built from, so pay no attention to the controversy or politics, as all this film does is showcase our country’s intelligence and ‘will’ to complete a mission, no matter the cost.
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