Zero Dark Thirty is so named because the film allows for zero bathroom breaks, is very dark, and is approximately thirty minutes too long.
The film opens with a black screen as emergency calls from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 are played while the date appears in supertitle.
After about this, we’re shown a man, in closeup, his face badly bruised and suspended in a stress position. This is Ammar and he, by all accounts, is having a really shitty day. He’s at a CIA “Black Site,” as a helpful supertitle soon discloses, being questioned by a big, rough looking interrogator named Dan and a few other guys in black ski masks. He’s repeatedly informed, “You lie, we hurt you.” He lies, and they hurt him. We’re shown Ahmed being water boarded in the first few minutes of film.
I should note, for the record, that I am totally opposed to torture or “enhanced interrogation” for any ends. But after hearing 911 calls from the Twin Towers for approximately a minute, I didn’t have a very hard time dealing with this man—the nephew of a 911 hijacker and money man for al-Qaeda—enjoying some of the CIA’s hospitality. That changes, though. Rather than becoming desensitized to the images, they only become more shocking, even when the CIA’s motives for pushing the detainees to the brink are made clear.
The film, directed by Kateryn Bigelow from a script by Mark Boal, traces the timeline of the hunt for Bin Laden, showing the various terrorist acts committed by al-Qaeda along the way. There’s a lot going on in the film, but it’s plot is essentially about one thing: Maya’s (Jessica Chastain) hunt for Osama bin Laden (spoiler alert: she finds him).
The film is essentially two parts connected with a small interlude. The first begins in Pakistan, with Maya, Dan and their team chasing down any and every lead they get. The film makes it abundantly clear that agents only goal with the interrogations is to stop violence from occurring, but they make it explicit that the only violence they’re really concerned about is violence perpetrated on westerners.
After a series of setbacks, Maya finally gets a hot tip that ends up leading her to Abu Ahmed al-Kuwati, or “the courier.”
Maya does a ton of cool spy shit to find Abu Ahmed like tracing his phone calls, using the guy from Carlos (Edgar Ramirez) to track him down, and having Dan buy a V-10 Lamborghini for a Kuwati prince. Eventually, they track the courier to a fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan that they believe to be inhabited by bin Laden and his family.
The film sags a little here during the interlude where Maya pressures her superiors to take action on the compound. They brief Tony Sop—I mean Leon Panetta (played by James Gandolfini)—on the details then sit back and wait. Eventually, options are put on the table, one of which is Operation Neptune Spear.
To be honest, the climax of the film kind of sucked. The raid on bin Laden’s compound should have been the coolest part but, in reality, just took forever and wasn’t really that exciting. Sure, there were a few explosions, but the DEVGRU (proper name for SEAL Team Six) just smoked everyone and left. The actual raid only took a few minutes. Why did Bigelow need it to take half an hour?
All things considered, the film was very good. It did seem to drag on at times, and I really think there were scenes that could have been cut, but Bigelow and Boal seemed very committed to authenticity, which really showed. You know you’re seeing some real shit when the CIA and Senate are flipping a shit saying someone gave the filmmakers inside access. It’s scary how real this movie is. As someone who values realism, it’s been hard to watch any other spy/military films since this one.
I’d highly recommend you see Zero Dark Thirty, it’s really an exciting film that provides a startlingly accurate depiction of what we read about in the newspaper around this time last year. There’s great performances by all the actors, especially leads Chastain and Jason Clarke (Dan the CIA interrogator). Parks and Rec fans will also get treated to a surprisingly good turn by Chris Pratt in a small but meaty role as Justin, a DEVGRU guy who can fuck shit up while cracking jokes.
Oh, for the record: Zero Dark Thirty refers to 00:30, the time that the raid on bin Laden’s compound was carried out. The film goes into wide release tomorrow. Hit up theaters and see it, but make sure to pee before you go.