Zero Dark Thirty
In any war there is a necessity to personify the enemy. During World War Two Adolph Hitler and the Emperor of Japan provided the requisite human face to focus the concentrated hatred of the nation. On September 11, 2001 the United States of America became the victim of a deadly act of terrorism and the murder of thousands of innocent civilians. Unlike most previous wars terrorism is far more ubiquitous, fundamentally not focused on a specific nation. Although the counties that generally embrace Muslimism there was no formal declaration of conflict issued by a sovereign state that can be held accountable for the heinous actions behind that fateful morning. Even though the formal investigation would be protracted, extending of many months, the public needed a person to blame; a figure to personally hold responsible. That person was Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaeda, the terrorist group behind the 9-11 attacks. President George W. Bush initiated a manhunt to find bin Laden and bring him to justice. In an understandably American fashion many American felt that this accountability should not be processed in a world court. The potential for defense strategies and legal loop holds provide the potential for the unthinkable; his release. The nation wanted bin Laden dead. There comes a point in the lives of even the most rational of people when the core instincts overwhelm rational thought and the primeval need for vengeance tales over. The film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is about one of the most intensive manhunts in recorded history culminating with the death of Osama bin Laden. The film that resulted from this dark time in one of the darkest periods in our history is so expertly crafted and well executed that it has rightfully hailed as a cinematic achievement worthy of the highest accolades.
The narrative foundation of the film shifts to properly follow the various stages of these events; the investigation, location, and elimination. Each segment of the story flows seamlessly into each other providing a movie that relates the information to the audience permitting many of the moral issued to be considered and reconciled by the individual viewing the piece. The movie is driven by the most primitive and powerful emotions we as a species are prone to; vengeance. This is not the one man against the evils in our society. This is the intrinsic need to achieve a sense justice on a societal level more expansive than any vigilante movie you have previously encountered. Much of the purpose behind this film is to promote a specific kind of healing among the citizens of this nation. In this regard the movie succeeds better than you might have expected. What is truly amazing is the film works so well from the perspective of considering it as a representative piece of artistic expression.
Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a young woman employed by the Central Intelligence Agency. Most of her post-graduation life has been in this career and as a result of timing and national priorities, spent in the pursuit of the terrorist leader, Osama bin Laden. Her assignment was as a part of the vast network of CIA agents gathering and collating intelligence on the activities of al-Qaeda and, more specifically, the whereabouts of bin Laden. Maya has just been relocated to the U.S. embassy in Pakistan to work with fellow CIA officer, Dan (Jason Clarke). A portion of Maya’s was to accompany Dan during the interrogation of suspected terrorist, Ammar (Reda Kateb). The questioning was done in a black site, a covert location that officially never exsisted. Dan has moved his interrogation beyond the traditional into the realm of what has been euphemistically referred to as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ or colloquially as simply torture. The use of techniques like waterboarding and stress positions are gruesomely depicted here and have been at the center of heated debates, moral controversy and political arguments that have overwhelmed many news cycles, particularly when it is used in the context of counter terrorism and homeland security. Through the use of a psychological trick Maya manages to extract some useful information from the detainee; an al-Qaeda associate of his, Abu Ahmed, is believed to be directly in contact with bin Laden, apparently as a messenger. Potentially this is the most significant piece of intelligence in the long search. The focus of Maya’s work shifts to the unrelenting search for this Abu Ahmed in hopes that will bring bin Laden within their grasp. For years Maya hunts for the courier, a task that frequently brings her directly into the line of fire an eminent danger.
The details of the subsequent activity are in the form of a less flashy espionage film. Instead of the spy chasing the villains in some tricked out sports car Dan arranges for the purchase of a Lamborghini to bribe a member of the local aristocracy for information. The important factor here is not the ingenious special effects demanded by Hollywood but the stubble and clandestine activities that are the mainstay of real intelligence operatives. The leads are meticulously chased until the courier is eventually followed to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Surveillance is increased over the next few months until there is a reasonable belief that this is indeed the lair of bin Laden. A tactical mission is developed whose objective is to penetrate the compound and if the objective is found capture or kill him. The final assault is depicted through the now familiar green palette of night vision goggles as the SEAL team infiltrates the facility and complete their mission. The death of the terrorist leader did not end the war on terrorism but for many Americans it represents a much needed sense of retribution.
The director of this film, Kathryn Bigelow brought home the Best Director Academy Award last year for ‘The Hurt Locker’, an intensely effective psychological examination of the effects of combat as seen in the context of bomb disposal unit in Iraq. This honor was historic in its own by maker her the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director. She utilizes the character of Maya as the central scaffold providing cohesiveness to the individual section of the story. This offers a humanistic vantage point critical considering some of the harshly realistic elements crucial to relating the essence of the story. Many have concentrated their criticism of the movie nearly to the occlusion of the other facets. Much to her credit as a filmmaker Ms Bigelow handles these scenes in an unflinching manner. Unlike the current regrettable trend expressed in many horror flicks she doesn’t glorify the infliction of pain as is done in the regrettable trend in many modern horror flicks. She is able to take a step back, out of the spotlight of the controversy to show the techniques as a means to obtain crucial information that is exceptionally time sensitive. Once again partnered with the screen writer from ‘; Hurt Locker’, Mark Boal they probe the issues in a way as to avoid condemnation or approval; it is just presented as the means to an end selected in this particular instance. The journalistic background of Mt. Boal is evident here although it must be noted this is a work of fiction with the CIA director distancing his organization from the letter of what is depicted in the movie.
There is a procedural nature that serves as its foundation that sets the tone for the work. It expertly walks the tightrope between the facts and entertainment working in both arenas. While facts may have been filtered through the lens of dramatic license the need for adrenaline drive action is never overlooked. The exhibited here were a pivotal part of our history and arguably necessary as a modicum of closure for Americans deeply affected by the tragic 9-11 attack and every act of terrorism. People waited a decade for closure and this film offers to help in that arena but most importantly it is a dramatic movie that will rivet you complete attention to the screen.