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:: Zero Dark Thirty

In the ten years that followed the 2001 terror attacks on the United States on September the eleventh, a team of CIA-led military and intelligence personnel worked toward the exclusive goal of capturing Osama Bin Laden. Zero Dark Thirty is the second feature for director-producer Kathryn Bigelow and writer-producer Mark Boal, with its title referring to the time (in military parlance) of Osama Bin Laden’s eventual capture and killing by Navy SEAL Team Six.

The film chronicles the decade-long series of events and intelligence gathering that takes place in drab field offices, a number of classified sites in the Middle East, interrogation and torture rooms and on numerous car trips through dusty and dangerous terrain in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At the film’s centre is CIA agent, Maya (Jessica Chastain) who early on establishes herself as having a differing point of view to the target’s whereabouts, refusing to believe that he is holed up in a cave in the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, instead sticking to her theory that he is hiding in plain sight in an urban location. Maya’s theory takes many years to prove and such is the focus on the task at hand, the film does not linger long on her frustration or the fact that significant intelligence is procured via the use of torture/interrogation.

The film’s opening scenes are challenging from the black screen that accompanies phone call recordings from September 11 of victims trapped in the World Trade Centre towers, to the first of several brutal interrogation scenes. The issue of torture/interrogation is neither examined or condemned in the film. The rigorous physical interrogation of a ‘person of interest’ yields a vital lead and when television footage of Barak Obama condemning the practice of torture is shown, the return to less violent investigation also brings results in the form of a significant, yet previously overlooked lead.

The highlight of the film is the eventual raid itself on Osama’s compound. It is remarkably familiar to an audience who since Operation Desert Storm during the first Gulf War 1990-1991, know the look of green-glow night vision and first person visual accounts. The raid is carried out by a generic, highly skilled team of Navy SEALs, who like Maya, we know little about. The star of this film is not an actor, but a series of scenes that in keeping with the CIA ‘s official version of events, as documented by screenwriter Boal via his anonymous sources, are not compromised by any detail superfluous to the capture of the world’s most wanted man.

Zero Dark Thirty is a fascinating visual account of ten years of conjecture, both public and classified, in the hunt for a man seemingly eternally concealed behind a labyrinth of bewildering Arabic names and characters that takes the viewer from the World Trade Centre towers to the comparatively primitive locales of a compound in proximity to an allied Pakistani Army base.