By Tom Kando
This is the story of Operation Neptune Spear, the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden. The mission has also been called operation Geronimo, the code name given to Bin Laden by the CIA.
The movie describes the ten-year hunt for Bin Laden and its successful conclusion. It describes an incredible sequence of black ops, CIA board meetings, “black sites” where detainees are being tortured, explosive Pakistani streets, suicide bombings, and of course the final assault on the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad.
In one word: awesome. The central character - better word: heroine - is CIA operative “Maya,” played brilliantly by Jessica Chastain. Through dogged determination, she is able to almost single-handedly track down and finally eliminate the world’s number one public enemy. She survives assassination attempts and overcomes Washington bureaucracy. One of the many controversies surrounding the movie is the extent to which the Maya character is fictitious. It is not, although it is probably embellished.
Another controversy (now involving US senators such as Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee) is the water boarding and other forms of torture depicted in the movie. It has been argued that the movie condones these practices and claims that they produced useful intelligence towards Bin Laden’s elimination.
Not really. The practices are depicted, because without this, the movie would lose half of its veracity. Whether or not torture helped to find Bin Laden is in the eyes of the beholder. It is also pointed out that the practices ceased, fully or nearly fully, after Obama became President. Whatever the case may be, the US government and the CIA may have been guilty of torture, but the film is not guilty of defending it.
Director Kathryn Bigelow (who also did the equally daunting movie The Hurt Locker in 2008) has no political axe to grind. In the Sacramento Bee film critic Carla Meyer’s correct word: the film is naturalistic. That is, it is faithful to reality. It is honest and truthful.
One of the most unnerving sequences was Maya’s struggle against the Washington bureaucracy. Once she was in possession of impressive evidence about Bin Laden’s whereabouts, she presented it to her superiors - including CIA chief Leon Panetta, played by James Gandolfini. She was given the run-around - for months. As a result of the delay, Bin Laden’s trail could easily have been lost.
Personally, I would have enjoyed it if the movie had included a brief enactment of the US President himself, at some point in the decision-making process. After all, that is where the buck stops.
The climactic assault on the Bin Laden compound is heart-stopping, even though we know the outcome, of course. It bears remembering that one of the two helicopters used in the assault was lost at the very outset - that’s half the assault fleet! In 1980, Operation Eagle Claw was carried out to rescue the hostages in Iran, and it was a dismal failure. Shit happens. Somehow, Barack Obama has been a luckier president than Jimmy Carter.
One thing I did not understand was why the special forces assaulting the compound were not immediately confronted by a dozen body guards rushing out with blazing guns to defend themselves and their leader to the death. As it is, the operation did not cost a single American casualty.
Arguably, by 2011 Osama Bin Laden was a decrepit old man, somewhat irrelevant as a worldwide terrorist leader. The greatest value of taking him out was perhaps symbolic. But that is something. Justice is something. And Americans could use a good morale boost. That is what the operation itself did in 2011. The movie Zero Dark Thirty is a value-neutral description of the operation, not chauvinistic propaganda. leave comment here