Everyone knows Osama bin Laden’s name, and after Zero Dark Thirty, they know how the CIA killed him.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty depicts the post-9/11 race to find and kill Osama bin Laden. The film features top CIA agent referred to as Maya (Jessica Chastain) in her never-ending search for information that may or may not lead her to bin Laden. In two-and-a-half hours of fast-paced action, Maya, alongside fellow CIA agents Dan and Jessica, portrayed by Jason Clarke and Jennifer Ehle, leads us from September 2001 to May 2011, when Navy S.E.A.L Team 6 infiltrates bin Laden’s compound and kills him.
At the heart of Zero Dark Thirty lies an exposure of the detainee program — involving the torture of many members of Al Qaeda’s inner ranks — and the beginning of the movie features multiple graphic torture scenes, including the waterboarding of detainees. The scenes, though explicit, bring morality into the equation and give the film an intensity that never ceases.
The nail-biting suspense continues as the movie weaves its way through the 2000s, incorporating the bombing of the Marriott in Islamabad, among other terrorist attacks. With the loss of the detainee program, Maya no longer has anyone to interrogate and must rely on other ways of finding information.
Jessica Chastain’s performance as Maya was exceptional — she brought a depth and realism to the character, who could have seemed cold and unlikable with the wrong actress. Chastain gave Maya a fragility that was juxtaposed against her strength and drive, making her likable and therefore executing the role superbly with an unforeseen finesse.
Chastain single-handedly carried the movie up until the raid of bin Laden’s compound, where the tension was at such heights it was bizarre to realize I already knew what was about to happen.
Zero Dark Thirty is up for five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The film is historic, and though it contains some inaccuracies (i.e. bin Laden’s beard was dyed black to conceal his age when S.E.A.L. Team 6 found him as opposed to the gray pictured in the movie), it deserves all of the attention it is receiving.
The gray area surrounding torture (it helped lead the CIA to bin Laden, so does that make it morally okay?) demands engagement from the audience, and the resulting psychological debate left me feeling slightly disturbed — but in the best possible way. Instead of watching mind-numbing action, I actually had to think.
Zero Dark Thirty provokes thought while being an overall incredible film. Though not always enjoyable to watch, the movie is important and worth seeing, if only to understand the hysteria surrounding it.