Unless you have been hiding out in a cave for the past 18 months, you know that Osama bin Laden was killed back in May 2011 by an elite team of U.S. Navy SEALs. There were countless interviews, descriptions, computer simulations and television specials that advertised and analyzed the now infamous raid. But what most people would not know is how it was a long, arduous and often violent 10-year journey that the CIA undertook to track down and kill bin Laden. “Zero Dark Thirty” (military code for half past midnight) is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Academy Award-winning director for Best Picture for “The Hurt Locker.” It tells the tale of that long journey in an engaging, suspenseful and intelligent film that is one of the year’s best.
Mark Boal, Academy Award winner of Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture for “The Hurt Locker” in 2009, teamed up with Bigelow yet again for “Zero Dark Thirty.” Together they deliver a very tight and coherent narrative that follows CIA agent Maya, portrayed by Jessica Chastain, made famous by “The Help,” on her quest to find bin Laden. Over the course of the movie, Maya proves to be a no-nonsense type who has no qualms whatsoever with getting her hands dirty. Chastain manages to give a commanding and captivating performance by being the steely agent whose life is centered on finding bin Laden. For the upcoming Golden Globes, Chastain has earned a nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, and she is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
The story takes place over the course of 10 years and hops from places like Pakistan all the way to Poland. To help viewers follow the storyline, Bigelow and Boal lay out events in a style almost resembling a documentary. But even with that layout, “Zero Dark Thirty” is still very much a thriller. Maya and others chase down every lead that will lead to bin Laden, every dead end and shocking conclusion. The last 30 minutes or so will keep you on the edge of your seat as you watch the final raid happen right in front of you, even though you already know how it ends!
In a lot of ways, “Zero Dark Thirty” is very similar to Bigelow and Boal’s last movie, “The Hurt Locker.” It presents what happens without spinning it one way or another. “Zero Dark Thirty” could have easily been a “GO USA!” type of propaganda movie that probably could have brought in millions at the cost of the art of film. Bigelow and Boal made no such sacrifice here. They almost pointed out how the U.S. government can stagnate and flounder until it is eventually forced into action and how it used questionable interrogation techniques on its detainees in the days after 9/11. Both of those things have brought some political heat from Sen. John McCain and people within the CIA, but Bigelow stands by her stance that the film is in no way political but is in fact based on true events.
Political commentary aside, this is definitely one of the best movies you will see all year and is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Moments like the opening with 911 calls on 9/11 to the end when one Navy SEAL reports back to base saying, “For God and country, Geronimo” (meaning bin Laden had been killed), will give you shivers. The must-see movie gives you quite a lot to think about, and Maya herself is stuck wondering where she wants to go next. And what a question to ask: We killed the No. 1 most wanted man in the world, but can you name No. 2?