What an intense movie. “Zero Dark Thirty” (a title which never, ever gets explained at any point or in any way) starts out with audio snippets of emergency calls from New York City on September 11, 2001, and after sixty to ninety grueling seconds of this we finally cut to our film’s first scene – an intense interrogation in which a Saudi fella gets what is known in the industry as “the business,” brutal treatment and humiliation only stopped so that questions could be shouted at him. And off we go, an epic movie about the multinational manhunt for infamous terrorist Osama Bin Laden, and while it starts off quite grueling, it eventually settles into the familiar rhythm of a typical political thriller, albeit with the added dimension of this being based on a very true and very well known event in our very immediate history.
“Zero Dark Thirty” hinges on one character, and that ain’t UBL, as he is referred to in this film (and apparently by the military when speaking about him). No instead the central character is CIA officer Maya (Jessica Chastain, winning critic and peer awards left and right for her work here), who is recruited straight out of high school by the CIA and has no friends thanks to her cut-the-shit attitude and oh yeah she’s spent her entire professional career doing one thing and one thing only and that is looking for Osama Bin Laden. We are told if it’s an assignment she really lobbied for or why she did or if she was just assigned to the case, but she’s on Osama’s tail for ten years plus, looking at millions and millions of pieces of data and information and trying to form a puzzle that makes some sort of sense that reveals the eventual location of this guy everyone in the world was looking for. That’s a long way to go to close a case.
It’s a pretty tense movie, and of course the play a little fast and loose with some of the actual events and people in order to tie some themes together overall, trying to stay truer to the spirit of the actual narrative as opposed to the 100% so-called “facts.” But this is the first of hopefully many narratives that come out through research, as this was based on work done by director Kathryn Bigelow and journalist/screenwriter Mark Boal and their own research and whom they spoke with in relation to these events that transpired. It was up to them to take all of this information and complete their own puzzle, and a puzzle within a puzzle so to speak, and in the future who knows what new information could come out or what another enterprising journalist decides to uncover and report.
As a piece of journalism, we all know it is a movie and doesn’t necessarily get things “wrong” so much as they re-purpose certain things to suite their own goals and needs, again maybe trying to link larger themes together or mashing up certain real people into one character, so as a piece of historical documentation it needs to be taken with a very large grain of salt, considering the ole adage about about history being written by the victors.
But as a movie? It is pretty awesome, split into three chapters, all of them detailing the main stages of the hunt for Bin Laden. The first third or so of the movie focuses a lot on the torture and moral ambiguities and quagmires entered into in the U.S. search for Bin Laden and anyone associated with him, and this eventually gives way to the bureaucratic section of the film which shows how the folks worked (and in some instances rather slowly) toward their goal of finding Bin Laden, and finally when Maya has everyone convinced that she snuffed him out, the movie ends with thirty minutes of Seal Team Six and their bad ass stealth helicopters raiding Bin Laden’s compound and, well, you know. Spoiler?
This final section is obviously the most thrilling because it’s the most stereotypically Hollywood action-y, though it does set itself apart in two ways – no film lights or set lights were used when filming the scene, as they shot it all in the same lighting conditions as the Seals experienced that night, and the entire raid takes about fifteen-twenty minutes, which was a surprisingly long time because you’d figure that one the Americans breach the compound it would only take a few minutes to find everyone, but since the place was so big and it was dark, they had to strategically work their way through and that was fascinating.
Also fascinating? The fact that Bigelow expected us to believe Chris Pratt was a Navy Seal.
This is a great film, interesting, compelling, enjoyable in many ways, filled with great actors doing great acting and James Gandolfini breathing heavily. Someone get the guy a c-pap machine.