‘Zero Dark’ brings the hunt for bin Laden to light
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:16AM
‘Zero Dark Thirty’
Though it’s difficult to watch, given its harrowing subject matter, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a film that really should be seen, as much for its dazzling cinematic qualities as its insights into the way the war on terrorism is waged.
It doesn’t offer easy answers to the ethical issues it raises or a false sense of security, or more than a brief moment of celebration after Osama bin Laden is finally tracked down and killed. In fact, the film’s final moments are given over to exhausted sobs. But it’s sure to provoke serious discussion on the way home from the theater.
“Zero Dark Thirty” is certainly a provocative film, but not for the sake of provocation. It has already stirred up considerable controversy, but it seems more likely that it simply intends to recreate reality as close as it can, without judgment.
Created by the same director/screenwriter team (Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal) that made the Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark” is every bit as realistic, suspenseful and emotionally intense.
A young intelligence officer (Jessica Chastain) joins a team at a CIA black-site detainee center in Pakistan. On her first day, she observes the “enhanced interrogation” of a terrorist. Maya is obviously disturbed by the questioning, but doesn’t leave the room. A few years later, she’s quite comfortable having a prisoner beaten during her own interrogations.
Those first sessions she witnesses are significant, however, because they produce the lead that she doggedly pursues, year after year, long after it’s been dismissed by her superiors — the name of bin Laden’s most trusted courier. If she can find that man, she reasons, she can find the al-Qaeda leader.
Though it’s 157 minutes long, “Zero Dark” moves swiftly, despite the fact that the plot frequently turns into blind alleys. Those blind alleys never feel frustrating because the film is made up of rapid cuts and brief scenes conveying a sense of uncertainty mixed with anxiety. The only constant is Maya’s almost monomaniacal belief that bin Laden is in Pakistan and that she will find him.
You know he is found and what happens to him, but what you might not be prepared for is how efficient, methodical and essentially dispassionate the SEAL Team Six mission turns out to be — or the way Bigelow films the mission without sensationalism or voyeurism.
On their return trip to base, the soldiers stare at the body bag lying on the floor, but they are silent. Suggesting that the magnitude of what they have just done and of the wrong they have at least partially righted, is beyond words.
Dialogue doesn’t get better than that.