After 9/11, the United States intensified its efforts in the international manhunt for Osama bin Laden (Ricky Sekhon). Nevertheless, the elusive mastermind of the terrorist attack continued to orchestrate mass murders in Bali, Istanbul, London, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere around the world.
Dismayed by the mounting death toll, the authorities rationalized the use of rough interrogation tactics bordering on torture in the hope of expediting the capture, dead or alive, of the elusive al-Qaida leader. He was finally tracked down to a walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where he died on May 2, 2011 during a daring helicopter raid conducted by the Navy’s SEAL Team Six.
Directed by Academy Award-winner Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Zero Dark Thirty (military speak for 12:30 a.m.) is a riveting account of the decade long search for bin Laden. Bigelow has again collaborated with Oscar winning scriptwriter Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker), and they apparently had access to classified materials while working on the movie.
The film is presented as a tale of female empowerment involving Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA agent who manages to keep her head even when many around her are losing theirs, literally and figuratively. She also has an uncanny knack for deciphering which clues might be worth following, in sharp contrast to her bumbling colleagues who spend most of their time on wild goose chases.
At the point of departure, we find Maya getting her first fieldwork assignment after she had been studying bin Laden from behind a desk in Washington, D.C. She’s been reassigned to participate in the questioning of al-Qaida members and sympathizers who have been detained at secret sites located outside the U.S. where the Geneva Conventions provisions relating to torture presumably don’t apply.
Soon, Maya’s imvestigating leads from Pakistan, Kuwait, and Afghanistan, alongside her bosses (Jason Clarke and Kyle Chandler) who could have cracked the case sooner if they weren’t male chauvinists who didn’t believe Maya’s analyses. It’s a shopworn plot device that pits a frustrated and unappreciated protagonist against a group of stubbornly skeptical naysayers.
Whether a convenient cinematic contrivance, or an accurate portrayal of what transpired, Zero Dark Thirty’s version of history is a very convincing piece of patriotic storytelling. Credit goes to Jessica Chastain for imbuing her character, Maya, with a compelling combination of vulnerability, sagacity, and steely resolve in a memorable, Oscar quality performance.
Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity, disturbing images, and graphic violence. Running time: 157 minutes. Distributor: Columbia Pictures.