Culture Magazine

The Most Prolific Manhunt of the Century. Covert CIA Operatives...

By Shannawilson @shanna_wilson
The most prolific manhunt of the century. Covert CIA operatives...
The most prolific manhunt of the century. Covert CIA operatives...

The most prolific manhunt of the century. Covert CIA operatives in undisclosed locations. A special operations raid in the dead of night using stealth helicopters to enter the airspace of a “sovereign” nation. A lone wolf against the colossal CIA and intelligence community’s machine of bureaucracy and black sites. Enhanced interrogations. You have to have a minimalist directorial team at the helm of this sort of material—it needs no hyberbole for its inherent drama. Luckily, that’s pretty much what you get.

Much has been said defending and rejecting the way torture is depicted in the film, and the moral ambiguities surrounding it. Academy Award winning director, (for 2008’s The Hurt Locker) Katherine Bigelow had this to say to about the way she chose to convey a decade of hunting for bin Laden:

I think Osama bin Laden was found due to ingenious detective work. Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. … Bin Laden wasn’t defeated by superheroes zooming down from the sky; he was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.

I saw the torture depiction as a culmination of things. The captive doesn’t give information in exchange for abuse. But he’ll give it up for some hummus and cigarettes. Whether torture should be condoned or condemned in not the question the film ask. On the contrary, it’s not asking. It’s telling you what went down. 

Meanwhile, this film is nothing short of an odyssey. In just over two and a half hours, Bigelow and Boal chrystallize over ten years worth of terrorist attacks at home and abroad, intelligence mis-steps, overcomplications, the attention to unimportant petty criminals vs. the serious jihadists, wasted time looking for cells in America vs. in plain sight abroad. The notion that while President Bush, and thereby his cabinet, moved away from an emphasis on where bin Laden was hiding, and the trickle down theory that no one was really paying attention to him because he was no longer important or well regarded in the Middle East was brilliantly explored in a scene between Jessica Chastain’s Maya and Kyle Chandler’s Joe Bradley. He tells her no one cares about bin Laden anymore. He’s old news. There’s been attacks in London, Madrid, Islamabad, Saudi Arabia, and most recently in Khost, Afghanistan when seven CIA agents and contracter were killed by a double agent suicide bomber. Her response is that bin Laden is the mastermind and the mentor behind all of it. This was the narrative few people accepted in the years after 9/11.

In the end, when Maya is right, and christened herself as “the mother fucker who found this place” ie. bin Laden’s compound via his courier, she stands alone, as the men in the boardroom don’t support her “100% its him” theory. An incredible portrayal of the raid comes next, under the green glow of night vision goggles worn by the SEAL team sent into the compound. The world knows what’s next. What doesn’t get shown in the film, to its discredit, is that Maya’s character is validated once more, by the intelligence gathered at the compound proving that bin Laden was indeed behind nearly every major terrorist attack in the years since 9/11.

Robbie Collins from the Telegraph in the UK writes,

Where, then, does Zero Dark Thirty leave us? In the same place it leaves Maya: with our thirst for justice quenched, but our sense of rightness shaken. “Where do you want to go?” a pilot asks her, and she starts shedding tear after tear. This, finally, is what victory looks like, and its likeness to defeat is terrifying.

Her life’s greatest work behind her, the satisfaction of a positive ID on the world’s most wanted terrorist, a sense of the magnitude washes over her as she sits, again, alone in the body of a large cargo plane. What else could there be?

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog