Under the Radar

Getting a Handle on 'Zero Dark Thirty'

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How factual does a movie have to be when it's inspired by real events? Can a filmmaker really tell a story without filtering it through a hardline political perspective? We've finally got a trailer for Zero Dark Thirty that gives some idea of how director Kathryn Bigelow decided to tell the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, so let's check it out.

Let's get some facts out of the way here: none of us here at Military.com has a security clearance that gives us access to the classified files that would allow us to come up with any kind of informed opinion about the technical accuracy of this movie. But it's also true that anyone who's ever had access to truly classified material of any kind would probably admit that it's often (read: always) full of conflicting information. An objective retelling of any true life event is pretty much impossible.

Zero Dark Thirty seems to be focused on the story of the intelligence team in charge of tracking him down, most specifically an as-yet-unnamed analyst played by Jessica Chastain (The Help). Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) plays a CIA operative in Pakistan, Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) directs the operation from CIA headquarters and James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) plays a DC suit who looks suspiciously like Defense Secretary Leon Panetta), while Joel Edgerton (Warrior) and Chris Pratt (Moneyball) take the lead on SEAL Team Six.

The events of 9/11 and the subsequent hunt for bin Laden are perhaps the most highly-charged true life events of the 21st century, so it's understandable that people are freaked out about the director's motivations.

Kathryn Bigelow has directed some of the smartest films of the last 25 years. Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days and K-19: The Widowmaker are incredibly well-made movies that all bring something new to tired genres. Best Picture The Hurt Locker used real-life inspirations to tell a (read: just one) story about the psychology of the men who take on the potentially deadly task of bomb removal.

Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal were about to begin production on a movie about the 2001 Tora Bora siege but quickly shifted their focus after bin Laden's takedown in May 2011. The script was quickly rewritten but it seems most likely that they used the Abbottabad raid as a new frame to explore ideas they were already planning to use in a movie.

So here we've got a new movie about an historically important event made by a team that apparently got input from folks connected to the hunt for bin Laden and used that input to create the character played by Jessica Chastain, one who seems to be inspired by one of the main figures described by "Mark Owen" in No Easy Day.

Here's the first reaction: Zero Dark Thirty looks like a high-drama story told by a first-class director. Is it a story that sticks to the facts (or someone in the Pentagon's version of the facts)? No idea.

But here's the bigger question, one that will infuriate anyone who sees every choice as a political one: if the movie uses real-life events as a starting point to deliver a powerful experience that tells some truth about life, should we even care?

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