On May 2, 2011, a manhunt led by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Navy Seals in Pakistan led to the death of widely-hated terrorist Osama bin Laden. 90% of the world rejoiced, mainly the American public, and the soldiers were able to go home after a long and gruesome Iraq War. Victory was ours.
This is what happened.
In 2003, Maya (Jessica Chastain) , a young U.S. Central Intelligence Agency officer, has spent her entire brief career since graduating from college and being recruited for the agency focused solely on gathering intelligence related to Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaeda, following the terrorist organization's attack on the United States in 2001. She is reassigned to the U.S. embassy in Pakistan to work with a fellow officer, Dan (Jason Clarke). During the first months of her assignment, Maya often accompanies Dan to a black site for his continuing interrogation of Ammar al-Baluchi, a detainee with suspected links to several of the hijackers in the September 11 attacks. Dan subjects the detainee to approved interrogation techniques, i.e., stress positions, hooding, subjection to deafening noise, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and humiliation. He and Maya eventually trick Ammar into divulging that an old acquaintance, who is using the alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, is working as a personal courier for bin Laden. Other detainees corroborate this, with some claiming Abu Ahmed delivers messages between bin Laden and a man known as Abu Faraj al-Libbi. In 2005, Abu Faraj is apprehended by the CIA and local police in Pakistan. Maya is allowed to interrogate him, but he continues to deny knowing a courier with such a name. Maya interprets this as an attempt by Faraj to conceal the importance of Abu Ahmed.
First off, the acting. Every single performance, specifically Chastain, Clarke, Pratt, Edgerton, and Strong, was incredibly focused and nicely directed. Chastain takes the cake as the one actress who holds the movie together. You're just on board with her as she plans the Navy's next move which could get them one step closer to bin Laden.
Secondly, the story itself. When I was in elementary school, I was the only eleven-year-old fifth grader that did a lot of research on the topic because I was that interested in it, and the characters helped glue me to the topic. The film knows when to be dramatic, when to be horrifying, and when to be action-packed at the specific moments.
Zero Dark Thirty also keeps the entertainment thanks to Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker, The Hurt Locker)'s fantastic direction. I may not have seen all of her work, in fact, I have yet to see Point Break, but you already have me intrigued in seeing it, Bigelow.
It does run at two-and-a-half hours long, but it's two-and-a-half hours of non-stop thrills and suspense.