Every major event gets made into a movie at some point. Case in point, Zero Dark Thirty, which tells the story of the details behind the search of terrorist Osama bin Laden. The film, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, portrays the events in an almost documentary-like sense as we follow CIA officer Maya who begins working at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan in 2003 right up until the capture of bin Laden in 2011. Little detail is put forward about Maya (Jessica Chastain) as the sole focus is placed on the mission at hand, leaving us little opportunity to get to know her beyond her professional role other than her determination.
Zero Dark Thirty seems to take the events as true accounts which can be supported by the allegations of Bigelow’s access to classified information by several Republicans, as well as accusations that the film was purposely scheduled to coincide with the Presidential election. It didn’t get a release until the election concluded, however, and it’s interesting to note that there is no appearance of the president nor is there a specific mention of him other than “the president”.
Another of the film’s controversies deal with its presence of torture from the other side of the political spectrum. For much of the beginning part of Zero Dark Thirty, we are witness to Dan (Jason Clarke) conducting various methods of torture on a detainee, Ammar (Reda Kateb), in order to get information that could lead to the whereabouts of bin Laden. There has been debate on the significance of showing it since many believe it didn’t lead to finding him, leading some to call the film pro-torture or propaganda. Though Bigalow has stated that since it in fact happened, it’s important to include it to show the whole story, whether it was instrumental in finding him or not.
The film is interesting to watch from a historical perspective, if it is to be believed to contain mostly truths. There isn’t an underlying love story or any other irrelevant baggage that prevents this movie from focusing on the one true target it is meant to. That means that it doesn’t serve well the purposes of entertainment – nor should it. It speaks volumes of a society that can take such a recent event of an actual man hunt and turn it into a film to be presented as is in the box office. There’s a certain level of discomfort that comes with this story that you know is based on fact, despite the background preceding the events in the movie, that we can distance ourselves so much from this that we can sit back and be entertained or at the very least, occupied for the duration of the film. But despite this form of baggage that comes with Zero Dark Thirty, as a film it is skillfully made with daring acting by Jessica Chastain, who shows herself to be both compassionate, vulnerable but also unwilling to succumb to these emotions as she works for what she feels is the right thing to do.
Zero Dark Thirty makes a strong effort not to give in to anything, be it politically, emotionally or factually. Attempts are made to keep the movie on track and fair without sacrificing the story to be told. Kathryn Bigalow’s acclaim is deserved for how she handled this film that sometimes feels long, but never feels unnecessarily drawn out.