Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Have you ever spent an inordinate amount of time attempting (but not quite succeeding) in doing just one thing? Then finally, when you’ve achieved your goal, what do you do? Well then this is the “problem” for a CIA agent named Maya (Chastain) who spent some 11 years single-mindedly in her pursuit of leads to uncover the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden in an attempt to bring him to justice for Al Qaeda leader having masterminded the 11th September attacks against the U.S 2001. Then finally in 2011 it appeared that her work will pay off and she was allowed to direct a U.S. Navy SEAL team to Pakistan to kill or capture Bin Laden. Her supervisors are skeptical, but Maya is confident that Bin Laden is where she says he is.
This film, from Kathryn Bigelow — the powerhouse director of The Hurt Locker — tells the story of Maya (not her real name) whose first experience in the field is in her tacit participation in the interrogation of prisoners following 9/11. It is clear that that she is a reluctant participant in extreme duress applied to the detainees, but she believes that the truth may only be obtained through such tactics. Eventually, she comes to learn where he is hiding out, and given the green light to send in her team.
The first half hour or so is difficult to watch as we are forced to witness some of the interrogation techniques of Al Qaeda prisoners (thankfully, we are spared actually having to re-watch the attack on the twin towers, even as we stare at a blackened screen and hear the audio). Even as the CIA operatives question the prisoners, you have to wonder what kind of person it takes to do these types of things to other people, and come to understand that war affects all of us. Eventually Maya hits on an idea that by not torturing the prisoners they might be able to get better intel from them, and it seems to work as they start to get some meaningful information out of the prisoners.
The middle of the film plays out like a standard detective TV show as the agents struggle to find clues leading to the whereabouts of Bin Laden — which is not to detract from the very seriousness of what is occurring on screen — but rather to let you all know that this isn’t some hi-tech Jason Bourne thriller, this is a sobering account of what happened. Eventually, in the films closing half hour or so is when it ramps up to the moment we all know is to come, the raid on Bin Laden’s compound by Seal Team 6 and the kill shot we are all anticipating (here again Bigelow chose to not quite depict Bin Laden in a full on-screen image, but gives us only glimpses of him both alive and dead).
As a complete work, Zero Dark Thirty forms a nice set piece with her earlier work on The Hurt Locker (which is what probably gave her the gravitas to direct this film). This is not an easy film to watch, but it is one that should be watched as it (perhaps) gives us all a better understanding of the men and women on the front line of this conflict. Not so much your typical “entertainment fare” Zero Dark Thirty is one of those films that just might help change some people’s minds about the nature of the world and their own place in it.