A Dark, Controversial “Zero Dark Thirty”
By Skip Sheffield
“Zero Dark Thirty” is a movie whose outcome is already known. “Zero Dark Thirty”
is the story-behind-the-story of the dramatic invasion and execution of
terrorist leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in bin Laden's Afghan stronghold in May of 2011. It is a second collaboration by director Kathryn Bigelow with journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal.
There was a lot more planning in the attack that meets the eye: literally ten years worth, starting right after the vicious
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Boal gives a richly-detailed but
controversial account of the political and military strategies of the mission.
Boal was the screenwriter of Bigelow’s Oscar-winning breakthrough film, “Hurt
Locker,” which also was tough on the U.S. military.
In Boal’s telling, a female CIA officer, Maya is the clear-cut heroine.
Maya is played by the gifted Jessica Chastain, who has been named on a number of critic’s Best Actress lists. Maya was head of a special group within the CIA investigating suspects and possible collaborators in the 9/11 attacks. The controversial part of the screenplay is its rather explicit and lengthy depictions of torture by
and allied interrogators. While there is little doubt that very forceful
interrogation went on in the hunt for bin Laden, critics say the film implies
that torture is an effective way of extracting information. Others say there
was no torture.
“Zero Dark Thirty” (the title is a military tern for half-past midnight) is a literally dark film, shot in jerky documentary fashion with hand-held cameras. The kind of meticulous research and planning that went into the project could be perceived as boring, but Bigelow presents the unfolding of the story is a suspenseful manner. There are typical bureaucratic heroes and villains, but it is the Navy S.E.A.L.s who executed the difficult and daring mission who deserve the lion’s share of the credit, along with the stubborn, persistent and brilliant CIA strategist who pointed everyone in the right direction. For that, bravo Bigelow and right-hand woman, Jessica Chastain.