- Released Internationally on 01/11/12
- Released in Malta by KRS on 27/02/13
Preview (first published 01/02/13 in VIDA Magazine)
Osama Bin Laden - quite a household name. My guess is that if there’s a more widely recognised name on the planet then it’s probably that of Barack Obama, who was lucky enough (or effective enough?) to be in office when Bin Laden was found. Jokes about being world hide-and-seek champion aside, Bin Laden’s decade in hiding is quite a feat, considering how his face was plastered all over the news, and considering how hungrily the Americans wanted to bring him to justice. Whether being shot by Navy Seals in your hideout is justice or not is another story, but I guess after publicly claiming responsibility for 9/11 he wasn’t expecting to have a fair, quiet, trial.
Anyway, his capture was big news, although the vague way in which it was announced, and in which the body was laid to rest, left a few of us guessing. But the US administration insisted that it was done in a way that would ensure minimal unrest, and we sort of had to take their word for it. In the age of social media, where Saddam Hussein’s hanging and Gaddafi’s last truck ride were splashed, disturbingly, across video sites worldwide, this equally newsworthy end happened in relative silence. That was May 2011.
Fast forward just over a year, and this is the most high-profile film to emerge from the proceedings, with none other than Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) at the helm. Since it’s release, two main focuses of attention have been the acting of Jessica Chastain (The Help), for which she is currently scooping awards, and the torture issue. Whether or not torture methods, such as waterboarding, were used to obtain the information leading to the success of the mission will probably never be known for sure, but the US administration is not too pleased about their inclusion in the film. It all helps the film’s publicity of course.
‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is military speak for half past midnight, which is when the raid on Bin Laden’s compound started. When that moment arrives, the film grows in stature and piles on the tension, and for the last half hour or so of this gripping tale we are treated to a more or less real-time re-enactment of the infamous raid, and Bin Laden’s last moments. An interview with the unnamed ‘shooter’ who was actually responsible for that all-important assassination has revealed that the filmmakers got remarkably close to how the actual raid unfolded, which is an impressive feat considering all the variables and secrecy involved.
This realism, this connection with the very recent past, and the far-reaching importance of the events concerned make this an engrossing and important film to watch, even during the occasional lulls in the narrative which might have crippled a similar effort if it were fiction. The lengthy build-up to the actual raid is of course necessary, and to be fair it is handled slickly, moving along with a brisk pace and managing to depict the duration, the immensity and the impossible odds of the task at hand. The script and direction, as well as convincing acting from even the tiniest roles, help make us care and worry about even minor, nameless characters in this worldwide drama. But ultimately, it is all just build-up, so thankfully the raid itself doesn’t disappoint.
The manhunt is depicted as a complex mix of impressive technology and good old fashioned human error, with an important dose of gut instinct thrown in. Chastain’s portrayal of the central figure of Maya is steely and determined, and in a way might be channelling director Kathryn Bigelow, as she makes spectacular headway in a business dominated by men. As the hunt gets warmer, it’s also great to see the message slowly creeping up the chain of command, with characters who were pushy and apparently all-powerful in the previous scene now humbly grovelling and trying to convince their superiors.
The myth of this infamous man is so great, so universal and so powerful, that only the tiniest glimpses of him are necessary throughout the film. His presence is everywhere, however, and every mention of ‘UBL’ helps remind us that what we are watching is not only highly entertaining, but also very relevant to the news we hear every day and the world we live in.