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The Wonder of the Cinema

#22 Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty – 2012

The raid to kill Usama Bin Laden

The raid to kill Usama Bin Laden

Some films are not about the outcome because we know how the film is going to end.  Here we know about the raid into Pakistan to kill Usama Bin Laden.  That is not the point of interest rather the tension and the mystery is all wrapped up in “how.”  How did CIA operatives discover his whereabouts?  How did Seal Team 6 carry out the raid?

Jessica Chastain as the driven CIA operative Maya

Jessica Chastain as the driven CIA operative Maya

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is “[a] chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May, 2011.” from IMDB.com  Starring Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt this film is a contender for a Best Picture Oscar.

The first two minutes of the film are presented with a completely black screen.  All we hear are the voices of air traffic controllers, 911 operators, and regular people reaching out for help from the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001.  This is followed by an intense interrogation as they waterboard a terrorist.  The interrogator later bluntly states to a detainee, “This is what defeat looks like.  Your jihad is over.”

Boots on the ground looking for leads...

Boots on the ground looking for leads…

The most fascinating thing to me about the search for Bin Laden as seen through this film is the decidedly low-tech methods used.  Beyond the most morally repugnant, torture, there are paid informants to watch for specific vehicles, traitors paid to switch allegiances, a Kuwaiti paid with a Lamborghini for a single phone number, and a German Shepherd during the raid itself.  Despite all of our technical acumen and James Bond-style gadgetry sometimes it still comes down to the boots on the ground.

The raid itself may come as something of a shock to US audiences expecting a high-speed attack with lots of shooting.  However, the raid is by all accounts available true to life.  There was no need for extreme speed during the attack.  The assault team knew how many individuals were present in the compound, and Seal Team 6 had overwhelming force present.  The raid seems almost slow motion in comparison to the usual Hollywood blockbuster.


The lead in the search for Usama Bin Laden, Maya, is driven to the point of obsession.  Perhaps it requires us to be obsessed to find these high level terrorists, even more obsessed than they are to stay hidden and plan attacks to kill us.  Just as an artists becomes obsessed with achieving a certain look or a musician with a sound or melody heard only in his/her head, CIA and other intelligence branch members must dive in and become obsessed with their targets.  Anything less  would be insufficent to the task.  And from this an interesting question is what does an obsessed person do once the obsession is fulfilled… once the painter creates in paint what was once only seen in the mind, the musician composes what was once only heard in the mind… what then?

There are quality performances throughout, but Jessica Chastain should be noted for her performance as Maya.  Depicting someone on the ragged edge as a woman somewhere between simply driven and maniacally obsessed with killing Usama Bin Laden is a difficult task, but Chastain is excellent.  She is known to US audiences primarily for her roles in The Help and The Tree of Life.  Other actors of note in Zero Dark Thirty include Kyle Chandler(Friday Night Lights), James Gandolfini(The Sopranos), John Barrowman(Torchwood), Joel Edgerton (The Thing, Revenge of the Sith), Chris Pratt (Moneyball, Parks and Recreation), and Mark Strong (Robin Hood, Kick-Ass, Sherlock Holmes).

Presently Zero Dark Thirty is nominated for four Golden Globe awards including Best Picture.  Add this film to your list of films you must to see.

The compound

The compound


About Rob Sterner

English teacher, Film buff, Filmmaker, Writer, Musician, Photographer, Runner, Taoist, Thinker, List maker...


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