Most of us are governed by the notion that military adventures should be a matter of public policy. Some secrecy is needed if missions are to be accomplished without being compromised beforehand. However, if it is a “mission accomplished,” then perhaps the public can be let in on how it might have been done. Such is the case with Zero Dark Thirty, from director Kathryn Bigelow.
Bigelow won an Oscar for her last film The Hurt Locker, which told tales of how our military de-fuses road bombs in Afghanistan. Bigelow used tension and uncertainty about how things would turn out to produce a taught, exciting film starring Jeremy Renner. In that film, we did not know what would happen or how things would be resolved.
With Zero Dark Thirty, it’s a different case, entirely, because we know the ending already. What we did not know was that President Obama had given the go-ahead order for our special Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 to go on a secret mission to take-out world criminal Osama Bin Laden, the brains behind the 9/11 attack on the United States. Bin Laden had been on the lam for more than a decade, and no previous administrations seemed to be able to capture or silence him.
Jessica Chastain plays a special CIA operative agent whose chief goal is to manage a raid against Bin Laden at his so-called secret compound in Pakistan. Since the house was a mere stone’s throw down the road from a Pakistani military base, it’s highly unlikely that nobody knew Bin Laden was there. Fortunately, we found out its location and Chastain’s group began a campaign on how to capture or kill the Al Qaeda leader. She had worked on finding Bin Laden for more than a decade.
They had to work from the outside in. They began interrogating lesser people around Bin Laden, got to know his special couriers, and were not above using water torture or other means of persuasion. These questionable methods of torture are not unknown and most countries use a form of torture to squeeze information out of likely candidates. Chastain retains her cool while watching tough guy Jason Clarke, an Australian actor, do the dirty work. You get the feeling she is dedicated to her work, and no amount of torture of the enemy is going to sway her off her course to complete the task. Clarke is effective in his tasks and makes a perfect interrogator with no scruples.
Screenwriter Mark Boal collaborated with Bigelow on Hurt Locker and collected two Oscars for writing and producing that film. He, himself, had been one of those hard-scrub journalists who embedded themselves with the troops to get a good story. If anybody would know and understand the military it would be Boal. He played a cat and mouse game with the CIA to glean some information on a proposed Bin Laden film that was highly different from the finished product we now see on screen. While Boal was preparing for the former screenplay, Bin Laden was killed. This caused a major turn in the direction of their proposed Bin Laden film.