Getting a Handle on ‘Zero Dark Thirty’


How factual does a movie have to be when it’s inspired by real events? Can a filmmaker really tell a story without filtering it through a hardline political perspective? We’ve finally got a trailer for Zero Dark Thirty that gives some idea of how director Kathryn Bigelow decided to tell the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, so let’s check it out.

Let’s get some facts out of the way here: none of us here at has a security clearance that gives us access to the classified files that would allow us to come up with any kind of informed opinion about the technical accuracy of this movie. But it’s also true that anyone who’s ever had access to truly classified material of any kind would probably admit that it’s often (read: always) full of conflicting information. An objective retelling of any true life event is pretty much impossible.

Zero Dark Thirty seems to be focused on the story of the intelligence team in charge of tracking him down, most specifically an as-yet-unnamed analyst played by Jessica Chastain (The Help). Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) plays a CIA operative in Pakistan, Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) directs the operation from CIA headquarters and James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) plays a DC suit who looks suspiciously like Defense Secretary Leon Panetta), while Joel Edgerton (Warrior) and Chris Pratt (Moneyball) take the lead on SEAL Team Six.

The events of 9/11 and the subsequent hunt for bin Laden are perhaps the most highly-charged true life events of the 21st century, so it’s understandable that people are freaked out about the director’s motivations.

Kathryn Bigelow has directed some of the smartest films of the last 25 years. Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days and K-19: The Widowmaker are incredibly well-made movies that all bring something new to tired genres. Best Picture The Hurt Locker used real-life inspirations to tell a (read: just one) story about the psychology of the men who take on the potentially deadly task of bomb removal.

Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal were about to begin production on a movie about the 2001 Tora Bora siege but quickly shifted their focus after bin Laden’s takedown in May 2011. The script was quickly rewritten but it seems most likely that they used the Abbottabad raid as a new frame to explore ideas they were already planning to use in a movie.

So here we’ve got a new movie about an historically important event made by a team that apparently got input from folks connected to the hunt for bin Laden and used that input to create the character played by Jessica Chastain, one who seems to be inspired by one of the main figures described by “Mark Owen” in No Easy Day.

Here’s the first reaction: Zero Dark Thirty looks like a high-drama story told by a first-class director. Is it a story that sticks to the facts (or someone in the Pentagon’s version of the facts)? No idea.

But here’s the bigger question, one that will infuriate anyone who sees every choice as a political one: if the movie uses real-life events as a starting point to deliver a powerful experience that tells some truth about life, should we even care?

  • Conrad vonBlankenbur

    Please! Stop! Enough! Cut the crap!

  • puresaltA1A

    Getting released right before an election as an political statement… just lost the potential of at least 50% of the population from even viewing it…. think of it that way… lots of $$$$$$$$$$ getting chucked out the window…

    • Bryceson

      You’re wrong puresalt. This movie is NOT getting released right before the election. It isn’t being released until December.

    • Dave

      It doesn’t get released until Dec 19. Thanks for playing, but try again.

    • puresaltA1A

      Your right, they changed the released date 3 days ago from the end of October to December 19th… My bad

  • Kegler300

    Probably thinking of the “Raid On Osama Bin Laden” which will debut on National Geographic two days before the election on 4 Nov.

  • Chris

    Spoiler alert!: They kill Osama.

  • Jerry

    Let’s be clear on this: OBAMA did NOT kill Bin Laden. An American sailor, who Obama, just a few weeks before, was debating on whether or not to PAY, did! In fact, if you remember a little less than two years ago, his administration actually charged and attempted to court-martial three Navy Seals from SEAL Team Six, when a terrorist suspect they captured, complained they had punched him during the take-down and bloodied his nose. Obama’s administration further commented how brutal they were. The left were calling them Nazi’s and Baby Killers. Now all of a sudden, the very brave men they vilified are now heroes when they make his administration look good in the eyes of the public. Obama just happened to be the one in office when the CIA finally found the guy and our sailors took him out. Essentially, Obama only gave an answer, Yes or No, to him being taken out. This is NOT an Obama victory, but an AMERICAN victory!!

    2008: “Navy Seal Team 6 is Cheney’s private assassination team.”
    2011: “I put together Seal Team 6 to take out Bin Laden.”

    2008: “Bin Laden is innocent until proven guilty, and must be captured alive and given a fair trial.”
    2011: “I authorized Seal Team 6 to kill Bin Laden.”

    2008: ” Guantanamo is entirely unnecessary, and the detainees should not be interrogated.”
    2011: “Vital intelligence was obtained from Guantanamo detainees that led to our locating Bin Laden.”

  • joey

    A blind, deaf and otherwise clueless Americas will realize that POTUS did not personally leave the White House, go to Pakistan by himself, driving the helicopter, busting in the door, took out x terrorists then killed bn Laden. It just ain’t reality. Anyone painting this scenario is way off on how the American people think (actually VOTE).
    It is obvious that POTUS was not the analyst in the intelligence process. But it is obvious that the Team in the Ready Room headed by Obama did get that scumbg. When we start identifying SEAL Team 6 in specific terms, we begin to lose advantage in the GWOT and those guys did a great job. Bush tried but failed but you know what, Americans benefit.

  • JC_AZ

    Joey… you are right about how Americans vote… it’s about government handouts, not competence in Washington or the WH… Obama’s chest-thumping exposure of the brave SEALs that ridded the earth of this POS don’t ask for credit and the media hype of Obama’s “brave decision to take out Bin Laden” is hysterical to say the least…he is no more qualified to ‘lead’ our military than “Joe the Plumber”, or anything else for that matter… at least Joe the Plumber ran a business and understands budgets and job creation…I am not even convinced he was happy with the decision, but of course too credit for his bravery to do so when the SEALs did their job.