Anthony's Film Review
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Hollywood brings to life a good dramatization of the hunt for the world's most wanted terrorist...
On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists launched a devastating attack against the United States using commercial airliners as missiles. On May 1, 2011, after nearly a decade, the mastermind of those attacks, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was killed at his Pakistan compound by members of U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six. Given how powerful these events have been, it is no surprise that Hollywood found its opportunity to release a film based on those events. It's also not too surprising that this film about the post-9/11 hunt for bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, would be directed by Kathryn Bigelow, whose Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
As Zero Dark Thirty opens, we are reminded of the atrocities of 9/11 but in a way that isn't overblown. For the first scene, we see nothing but a black screen, but we hear audio of 911 calls, news reports, and other recordings made on that terrible day. Then, we jump to 2003 when a CIA agent named Dan, played by Jason Clarke, interrogates an al-Qaeda financier. Unfortunately, it's not easy. As the detainee remains silent, Dan resorts to waterboarding and other methods of torture in an attempt to get vital information about the terrorist network. This is one of the sources of controversy about the film, because it suggests that torture was justified and necessary to find Osama bin Laden. (I have no opinion of this, so my review of the movie isn't affected in any way by Zero Dark Thirty's depiction of torture.)
Pretty soon, it's clear who the main character really is: a female CIA agent named Maya. Actress Jessica Chastain, in a solid performance, portrays Maya as someone who can easily be described in just three words: smart, tough, and dedicated. She may smile briefly from time to time when she isn't working, but once she is in the middle of intelligence gathering and analysis, she maintains a serious no-nonsense demeanor. And when she is told not to pursue whatever lead she is focused on because a recent attack on American interests has shifted priorities within the intelligence community, she will fight to keep doing what she is doing. As the late part of the movie shows, this determination will pay off.
The events leading up to the year 2005 mainly involve interviews with individuals connected to al-Qaeda and a few explosive situations that leave some people dead. The movie gets really interesting when it shows events from 2008 and onward. This is where Maya pursues the lead that she's been looking for. One man may be connected to Osama bin Laden, directly or indirectly, and agents work together to do surveillance of areas in Pakistan where he might be moving around. The effort takes some time, but there's a big step forward when they discover a walled compound that, as discussed in later intelligence meetings, has some unusual features. This place, as we know from real-life news coverage, is where bin Laden is hiding.
The climax of Zero Dark Thirty centering on the Navy SEAL raid of the compound is worth the wait. It's a fairly accurate reenactment of what this brave military team did, portraying moments of stealth, split-second decisions to fire gunshots, and the confined rooms of the compound. While watching this sequence, I couldn't help but look back on two things related to the raid. One was an interview with a member of Navy SEAL Team Six on the CBS news program 60 Minutes, in which he described in detail his account of the compound raid and bin Laden's death. Zero Dark Thirty presented the same details. The other thing was the official White House photo of a room next to the Situation Room where various officials were receiving live updates of the bin Laden raid, including President Barack Obama with a serious expression and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with one hand covering her mouth. The feeling of suspense evident in that photo was very much what I felt during this last part of Zero Dark Thirty.
All in all, this is a pretty good movie, certainly better than The Hurt Locker which I thought was average despite its widespread critical acclaim. Putting aside any issues related to content accuracy, I'm pleased that Zero Dark Thirty presents a gripping story as well as a strong main character whom I can identify with. It also gives us another sense of closure for the horrors of 9/11, in addition to that feeling we got the first time upon hearing the news of bin Laden's death. With all of this, Kathryn Bigelow might soon have a reputation as a skillful director of political and war dramas. If the next big American war takes place and it's time for a Hollywood film about it, she might get the call.
For more information about Zero Dark Thirty, visit the Internet Movie Database.