Swift shot: Vindication, finally, for the “detainee program” in which we used all manner of physical intimidation to extract valuable, actionable intelligence from our enemies. You know, from bad people, literally hell bent on wiping us off the face of the planet. September 11th, 2001 is the day care-free America died and reality set in that our enemies were now bold enough to strike us at home. And, had they succeeded in their entire plan, the White House, Pentagon, Capitol and World Trade Center would all be ruins now. We all know where we were when it happened, and we all know what we did afterwards, or didn’t do, to make sure it didn’t happen again. Then there are the Crazy Mutherfuckers who only exist on the peripherals of the modern mind. Those folks did things that you don’t want to know about, and even this glossed-over Hollywood retelling barely touches on, in truth. This is their story.
You don’t like that we had to get dirty with our enemies, you don’t like that we have blood and shit on our hands? Tough, then go put on your jammies and I’ll read you a story. We are at war . . . our enemy knows this, we like to pretend that we aren’t, but some of us get it, and understand this concept, on a daily basis. We call these people, warriors, and they come in all shapes, colors and sizes, but their veins pump Red, White and Blue, and they say, we aren’t getting hit again, not on their watch, and they are willing to do anything to prevent it!
Whether we want to admit it or not, killing Bin Laden became Mission Numero Uno following the deadliest attack on American soil since the nineteenth century. He was a threatening menace to the US since the late nineties. I first heard the boogey man’s name in early 1997, Osama Bin Laden. At that time, I was in the Marines for almost 5 years and just leaving for my NATO post in Norway. UBL had an army of cameramen go onto several US bases (overseas) and record the children playing in the front yards on base housing compounds and sent the tapes to the CIA with the message “look how easily we could slaughter your children, while they play.” That was my personal first exposure to UBL, watching a kind of Public Service Announcement on the Armed Forces Network. That tape made my blood boil, and I wasn’t even a parent yet.
This is the clear message of Zero Dark Thirty, bad guys want to kill us, they want us to burn, they want our children to die, our mothers, our fathers, all of us . . . to die! They don’t fear us, but they did underestimate us, so we have to show them that we are more than willing and able to get into the gutter with them to do the dirty fighting we don’t like to admit to ourselves is necessary to protect our people. Zero Dark Thirty delivered this message home to me in a big way, they made no real apology for how they withdrew the intelligence, it was just matter of fact yet brutal when necessary. Still nothing, compared to what these lovely humans would do if the tables were turned, mere mind games compared to the medieval torture chambers they currently propagate around the world and their madrasas teaching their innocent children to hate us, en masse.
Jessica Chastain plays ‘Maya’ who is sent on her first assignment to interrogate a prisoner at a CIA Black Site, trying to expose “The Saudi Group” and determine their next target. She is under the tutelage of Dan (Jason Clarke) an Aussie born actor who delivers a charming, surfer-dude American with a heart of stone character. He probably isn’t the type of guy you would pinpoint as an enforcer in a crowded room. Physically, he is menacing, but you’d never know by his demeanor that he is good at “interrogating” people. I wasn’t able to really pin down if he enjoyed it, or if it was just a shitty job that he knew needed doing. To me, it appeared he didn’t enjoy the harsher stuff.
The two of them have been granted gloves-off immunity to get the information they need to capture or kill Bin Laden. But while they are chasing shadows, the terrorists are busy carrying out attacks around the world with devastating effects. Her team is helmed by Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler) who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite supporting actors. Also within her command is the Texas born Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) who is a bit of a hand-down from the Cold War era, she still thinks money is all it takes to turn the enemy. She doesn’t understand her new enemy. Perhaps it was for this reason that Maya was recruited so early in her life. I won’t spoil how early, as that was a bit of a shocker to me in the film when it is finally revealed.
As all the detainees are questioned and as some are turned, they start to reveal the identity of Abu Ahmed, at least that is his “war name.” Every detainee corroborates the existence of this figure, but is he real or is he a master stroke of misinformation by Al Qaeda? Maya becomes obsessed with this question . . . and little else! She has no social life, and even her friends at work rarely see her lighten-up. She is like a pit-bull, refusing to release her bite on this one piece of intel. Problem is, while she is certain this is the key to getting Bin Laden . . . she has no proof and the terrorists are not stopping their agenda while she works.
As the administration is replaced, i.e. Obama gets into office, the “detainee program” is shut down and it is rumored that all of the case officers will be facing criminal charges, Dan decides to opt-out of the interrogation game and focuses more on his career back at Langley. Maya doesn’t care who is in the White House, she has seen friends come and go and bosses come and go, and up to and until she is actually arrested for her work, she continues in her pursuit. But even she eventually winds up back at Langley due to orders from his holiness, no doubt.
Her tenacity finally pays off, the missing puzzle piece about Abu Ahmed, his “family name” is finally known and the rest of the pieces all fit to locate a fortress in Abbottabad, Pakistan, less than a mile from the Pakistani Military Academy . . . yes, really. All they know is that the guy they are tracking is supporting someone that really doesn’t want to be seen, not on satellite and not via ground surveillance. Maya is convinced it is the boogeyman, Osama Bin Laden. Still, in the intelligence community, there are countless degrees of speculative data. She is 100% sure it is him, her superiors are not as positive.
One of her superiors that you can’t help but respect is George (Mark Strong) who really brings home the fact that this isn’t a game in one excellent scene. Strong did a lot with very little screen time! Maya spends months trying to persuade him they need to act on the Abbottabad compound. Finally, they do. And that brings us right into the book, No Easy Day, where DEVGRU is tasked with either capturing or killing Bin Laden. Maya just wanted to turn the whole compound to dust with a giant bomb, but because the administration wasn’t completely sure he was there, they opted for a plan B, what Maya coined the canaries. Essentially, DEVGRU would sneak in and surgically take care of the problem. If Bin Laden wasn’t there, it would just be one of countless missions that you and I are not meant to know ever happened.
Justin (Chris Pratt), Patrick (Joel Edgerton) and others make up Seal Team Six (DEVGRU), and there is an eery calm reality as we see how quickly the op happens once the order has been given. In they go, without the Pakistani gov’t’s knowledge. Flying in top-secret new choppers, they assault the compound. This was a long film, but at no point did I want it to go quicker or feel like anything was tacked on. Essentially, Zero Dark Thirty is two movies, one full-length feature film on how the intelligence was gathered to lead up to the assault, which itself was about 30 minutes. The assault sequence was exactly as it was recalled in No Easy Day . . . to the smallest detail. There was one significant change in the Maya character from the book though that I was kind of disappointed in Director Bigelow for not showing the authentic Maya/Jen reaction.
How everything was edited together to carefully show the struggles and rewards of the warriors’ work is why this film deserves the utmost praise. I have already heard people calling this the year’s best film. It may not be as fantastic as some of the other films out of 2012. The cinematography doesn’t lend itself to grandiose images, and the matter-of-fact delivery of each scene can be daunting to some. Each new sequence is delivered with a chapter title and the film almost has a documentary feel to it, but not quite. I can easily see Bigelow winning another Oscar though. She got to deliver to America . . . and the world, the assassination of the most hated and feared boogeyman for America since Hitler.
Because Barack Obama decided to never make public the grotesque death pictures of Bin Laden, this film serves to provide what we all need . . . closure! On September 11th, 2001, Osama Bin Laden signed his death warrant, on May 1st, 2011, America called to collect what was owed all with a nice little whisper. [See the film to get that reference] In 2012, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal granted America a back-stage pass to a monster’s execution. If you need closure, Zero Dark Thirty is it.
[Swift aside: The CIA allegedly had nothing to do with this film, and all the “access” (or leaks as we like to call them in the biz) granted to Kathryn Bigelow’s team of film-makers was supposedly from Pentagon sources only. So, according to the CIA, we are to take anything on-screen with a large grain of sea-salt. Fine, I don’t care how they got UBL, I am just glad he is dead. But there lies the rub, now that this movie is out, considering we were led to believe some 10 minute REALLY poorly shot “film” caused such an uproar in the Middle East . . . . one wonders what repercussions ALL of the film-makers associated with Zero Dark Thirty will face for the rest of their lives. It is no small thing to call them all warriors as well, because they are all now marked men and women. So, God speed and good luck to them all. Their movie martyrs a madman, and martyrs often have mad followers.]