If you expect Zero Dark Thirty to be the story of how we finally got Bin Laden, you’d be wrong. It’s the story of one woman’s obsession with finding the man.
Maya is a young CIA operative assigned to the task shortly after 9/11. From the moment the film opens with the frantic 911 calls, the last recorded seconds of the passengers lives, we know this is going to be a film that isn’t afraid to bare all. And Maya’s got a front row seat.
She wears a suit to her first interrogation, like she’s expecting it to take place in some quiet room. Instead she’s greeted by a detainee who has shit himself. He’s strung up like Christ on a cross, and he keeps mumbling about an attack but won’t pinpoint the date.
Eventually he gives her a lead. And by eventually, I mean two years later. Sifting through the lies is a tedious and time consuming process, and at times it seems Maya is the only one doing it. She watches hours upon hours of tape. She combs through the chatter. She sits in and personally interviews who knows how many of the detainees, finally turning up a courier. And Maya’s convinced he’s their link. He will lead them straight to the top. If only the people around her would believe her.
We know how this story ends. We know those teams dropped into a compound and raided a house and shot him on sight.
I still thought something could go wrong.
The raid isn’t quiet. While there’s no charge, no once more unto the breach, there are shots, shouts, explosives, and a helicopter crash. You wonder if maybe, just maybe, they got this wrong, as they slink through the house, and from the sweat and grime hanging in the air, you can feel the anticipation suffocating them the longer it goes on.
While Kathryn Bigelow had a compelling story right from the beginning, the film could have very easily fallen apart in the hands of a lesser actress. Jessica Chastain, as operative Maya, grows from a wide-eyed, hard working idealist to a woman who will not rest until she’s accomplished her objective. She has no life. This is her life. She doesn’t try to make friends and keeps quiet. But thanks to the stellar performance of Chastain, you never forget she’s in the room. You get the sense she’s just waiting for the opportunity to skewer her point home, and when she loses her temper with the ops chief in Pakistan (Kyle Chandler), you get that glimpse of the powerhouse you know Maya is. This search is who she is, and you forget it’s an actor playing a part and that she gets to go home at the end of the day.
You come away from the film thinking you have sand in your teeth. And that Bin Laden wasn’t the only one who lost his life at the end of that operation. Because when the pilot who comes to transport Maya home asks her where to go, she doesn’t have anything to say.