Bigelow’s film does have a few problematic aspects. Every so often the script (by Mark Boal) gives Maya some Rambo-like lines that ring false. At a high-level meeting with a senior-level intelligence executive played by James Gandolfini, she introduces herself to the suits by shouting, “I’m the motherf—er who found that,” meaning Bin Laden’s hideaway. At another point, she tells Navy SEAL Team Six that she has found Bin Laden and “You’re going to kill him for me.” If Maya, or a Maya-like figure, told the SEALS that in reality, I have a feeling they laughed in her face and said something like, “Thanks little lady, but we’re going to kill him for God and country, and for us, not for you.”
Another failing of the movie is that the SEALS don’t enter into it until the last 45 minutes. The raid is depicted viscerally, using the look of night-vision goggles that practically put us into the helmets of the assault squad, but the SEALS don’t receive their proper due. They come across as highly trained professionals, about whom we know next to nothing as individuals. Nor does Bigelow show the intensive training and preparation work that must have gone into the raid; she is far more interested in the Maya character than in the courageous men who actually took down Bin Laden. We’ll have to wait for another movie to give SEAL Team Six the starring role it deserves.
Still, the overall impact of Zero Dark Thirty renders its weaker points forgivable. Bigelow, who was an action-movie director before she ventured into Oscar bait movies, keeps the pace thrumming so that the two-and-a-half-hour running time doesn’t seem like a long sit. And she made a fairly courageous choice not to appease Hollywood’s left-wing Oscar voters by including any pious speeches about the morality behind the CIA’s rough interrogation procedures. What she shows is for the most part a totally believable recreation of how the CIA found out about the courier, how they tracked him down (using such clever schemes as obtaining his mother’s phone number in Kuwait from a degenerate Arab party boy who traded the number for a yellow Lamborghini) and how they found him (by tracing his cell phone in Pakistan). Each step of this procedural thriller is shown with the kind of you-are-there intensity that makes Zero Dark Thirty one of the best pictures of the year. That the story is true makes the movie even more essential.
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