Movie of the Week 77
Zero Dark Thirty 2012 drama, action, adventure
I recently re-watched this nearly ten year old film, and was inspired to pen a review and mention two excellent non-fiction books which I found to be very relevant to the subject at hand. The hunt for Osama bin Laden (OBL) began in Afghanistan immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks. Even before the attack OBL was on the American radar as a well-known, violent Islamic extremist. Just a few weeks after 9/11, American CIA Jawbreaker Teams, with strong air support and our Afghan allies, had OBL and his al-Qaeda terrorists on the run in their mountain stronghold. Bin Laden and his surviving Jihad fighters bolted for one of the rugged mountain passes on the Pakistan border. The Jawbreaker team called for an American Marine blocking force to capture bin Laden (reference Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, Berntsen, Gary- CIA Field Commander). In one of the stupidest decisions in modern American history, George W. Bush handed off the blocking force assignment to the Pakistan army. His reason – “he was worried about casualties”. OBL and his men slipped past the Pakis and went into hiding in the outlaw infested Pakistani tribal region. Fast forward ten+ years to Zero Dark Thirty (ZD 30).
It is helpful to remember at all times watching ZD 30 that what we are seeing on the screen is a Pentagon/CIA approved, carefully vetted movie. With a Pentagon script approval, comes important access to the big toys – helicopter gunships, fighter jets and combat vehicles (reference National Security Cinema, Alford, Matthew). The U.S. military and CIA analysts are presented as dedicated patriots and selfless heroes. The camera lingers lovingly at Maya (Jessica Chastain), an unsung CIA agent at the mission’s center, as she strikes one of several angelic poses. She is, of course, an avenging angel in red, white and blue.
Few details on the hunt and destroy operation for Osama bin Laden were made public, so the secrecy and mystery of the operation fueled interest in the film. Almost immediately ZD 30 kicked up a big political shit-storm. The liberals puked and moaned about the movie “justifying torture”; while the equally clueless Republicans bitched about the movie being a campaign ad for Obama’s re-election.
ZD 30 is neither a strict dramatization of the facts nor a Rah-Rah feel-good revenge story; instead, it’s a gripping fusion of a complex investigative drama that spawns into an action-thriller showing the day of reckoning for the world’s most wanted terrorist. Zero Dark Thirty lulls during the droning conference-room meeting. But it’s operating at its peak when Jessica Chastain’s Maya cracks the secret of bin Laden’s hideout and argues with her supervisors for the approval to attack. The entire nighttime raid on bin Laden’s compound is a remarkably focused piece of filmmaking. Sure we know the outcome, but seeing it happen on the big screen was astonishing. This is an intelligent, well-constructed film for grown-ups. But make no mistake; as the supreme CIA Tribute nothing beats ZD30.
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Written by Ben Clark. Copyright 2016-2023. All rights reserved.