• James Rutherford

‘Zero Dark Thirty’: A Captivating Depiction of the CIA’s Painstaking Hunt for Osama bin Laden


Movie poster for the film Zero Dark Thirty starring Jessica Chastain

“Zero Dark Thirty” (2012) is a thoroughly captivating depiction of the decade-long pursuit and eventual assassination of Osama Bin Laden, told from the perspective of a fictional CIA intelligence agent named Maya (Jessica Chastain) who steers the painstaking hunt for the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.


Beginning in 2003, the film follows Maya as she initially oversees the black site interrogation of a suspected al-Qaeda operative, where the name of a personal courier to bin Laden, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, is first ascertained. Over the coming years, deliberate and meticulous intelligence work ensues in the pursuit of Abu Ahmed, as the storyline works its way through dramatic historical milestones including the 2008 Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing and the 2009 attack on Camp Chapman.


Exacting intelligence operations ultimately provide Maya and her team with the phone number of Abu Ahmed’s mother, which they use to trace incoming calls from the streets of Islamabad. The ensuing scramble sets off a tense pursuit that leads them to the site of a large urban compound in suburban Abbottabad—an obscure and heavily-fortified residence that tantalizes the intelligence team stationed at the U.S. Embassy nearby.


Written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow (“Point Break”, “The Hurt Locker”), “Zero Dark Thirty” is a electrifying true-to-life recreation of one of the greatest manhunts in history. It’s a lengthy and dynamic procedural illuminating the intricacies of the intelligence-gathering process, conveyed in remarkably compelling fashion. Chastain anchors it all with her no-nonsense portrayal of Maya, a fictionalized yet altogether convincing portrayal of a top intelligence professional facing the challenge of a lifetime. Resoundingly authentic yet thrillingly cinematic, it delivers historical insight and genuine excitement in equal measure.

 

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