Twitter Plot Summary: The hunt for Osama Bin Laden following the events of 9/11, told from the perspective of a CIA Analyst obsessed with the project.
Five Point Summary:
1. Waterboarding and other torture techniques: Vol 1.
2. Dinner in posh Pakistan restaurants seems like a bad idea.
3. Never invite a suspected terrorist into your facility.
4. Hey look, it’s John Barrowman!
5. The assault on the complex. Tense stuff.
Zero Dark Thirty began life as the story of US intelligence’s failure to locate Osama Bin Laden, until at the very last minute he was tracked down and killed by Navy Seals. This resulted in a change to the film’s purpose and arguably makes for a much more interesting adaptation of real world events as a result.
Suffice to say, Zero Dark Thirty is grim viewing. Exploring the US perspective on the conflict with Al-Qaeda following the attacks on 9/11, the 2.5 hour running time dramatises real world terrorist attacks from 2001 onwards, the US efforts to extract information from suspected terrorists via water boarding and other torture techniques, and the constant threat posed by Al Qaeda and their non-centralised terrorist cells. Through a mixture of questionable methods, hunches and good old fashioned detective skills, the CIA
It also remains a thoroughly gripping piece of film-making, Kathryn Bigelow crafting a story that follows the initially naive agent Maya (Chastain) as she buries herself in fragments of possible intelligence, sifting through absolutely everything and slowly trying to take down the terrorist cells responsible for attacks on the west. Bigelow has a perfect handle on finding the human moments amongst the violence, and Zero Dark Thirty is no different to her previous efforts. You feel the frustration, the pervading sense of fear, the near sense of hopelessness in the face of an enemy that doesn’t play by the normal rules of combat – a distant reminder of Vietnam, even.
This all builds to the final act, where a team of Navy Seals storm Bin Laden’s compound in near enough real time, drawing close inspiration from real world events and putting the audience right into the action by using the camera almost like the first person perspective of one of the Seals, further emphasised by the occasional use of a night vision filter. This sequence is played out in real time and is all the better for it. Despite the outcome being known and the superior US forces taking on just a few people, it’s still a gripping few moments.
You don’t particularly need to be a fan of either side as presented here, both Al Qaeda and the CIA have less than appropriate methods for achieving their goals. Obviously any act of terrorism should be met with an appropriate level of disdain as there’s no call for it, but at the same time this isn’t a flag waving exercise about the US secret service. It’s more an insight into the thinking and thought process of a single woman, Maya (Chastain), who becomes obsessed with the task of hunting down Bin Laden. Within the film it is a cause that she unwaveringly follows from her induction into the CIA despite the many risks that she inherently finds herself exposed to. She’s almost an automaton, with no defining characteristics other than her determination to see this through. Without her obsession, who is she?
From this perspective, how different is she from the terrorist whom she is trying to track down, who are similarly blank slates intent on their cause to the detriment of everything else. It’s this dark mirror which sits uncomfortably in the background throughout all of Zero Dark Thirty, and whilst neither glorifying or condemning the efforts of both sides it does highlight the sad reality of the world we live in today. This, if nothing else, is Zero Dark Thirty’s most powerful message.