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Zero Dark Thirty Is An Instant Classic

Ryan Nunez |
January 7, 2013 | 5:53 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Jessica Chastain is CIA operative "Maya" (Creative Commons/Pink Cow Photography).
Jessica Chastain is CIA operative "Maya" (Creative Commons/Pink Cow Photography).
In what can only be considered a true Congressional stamp of approval, an investigation into the movie Zero Dark Thirty (in theaters now) has allegedly been launched to find out if the CIA gave improper cooperation to the film's producers for the sake of pinpoint accuracy and authenticity. While this investigation is taking place, the film is simultaneously being called “grossly inaccurate and misleading”, by the same senators that have launched said investigation.

What parts of Zero Dark Thirty senators and Congress think Americans won’t be able to handle isn’t exactly clear.

Is it the U.S.’s open use of torture during the War on Terror, which is boldly and shamelessly depicted in the film, or is it the usefulness and/or uselessness of these tactics?

Are they upset that the film shows that America has ridiculously awesome stealth helicopters, which allegedly don’t exist, and equally awesome stealth operations Seal Teams that premeditated and carried out an insanely risky mission, all while documenting every step thoroughly with photos and on video? 

Or is it that while bringing justice directly to Osama Bin Laden was put on the backburner by a political administration, there were still American men and women dying for said cause?

While these concerns are being played out in the media far after the fact, they are merely distractions at this point.

Not quite lost in all the grandstanding, smoke screens and pointless allegations are two irrefutable facts, one boldly obvious and one hidden in the details:  Zero Dark Thirty is an instant American cinema classic and it’s arguably the most powerful feminist movie ever made in American cinema history.

While most of the actors in the film should be commended for their efforts, Jason Clarke is vicious for the ages and Jimmy Gandolfini as Leon Panetta was an especially creative and rewarding casting achievement, it feels a little misguided to commend actors when there are real people out there who lived the scenes depicted.

Relative newcomer Jessica Chastain’s rousing turn as Maya - who is said to be based on a real, unidentified person - is the exception. Hers is a performance that has truly made history.

While American men from Congress to Wall Street to Main Street spent most of the Bush years just “doing their jobs”, “staying the course”, and just plain cowering and hiding from the duties and actions that make Americans inherently great, it was a woman: one single, scarred, laser-focused woman that cajoled, extorted and pushed her superiors and actually made the death of Bin Laden a reality, only to realize that she had just achieved the only goal of her entire adult life and that she had no idea where to go or what to do after.

The measuring stick of any movie based on a true story is well known and often accomplished. The audience knows the ending, so will the director and cast still be able to entertain us and keep us in suspense until the very end?

Zero Dark Thirty leaves such an achievable bar of expectations to lesser films, choosing instead to efficiently tell a tale that was more than 10 years in the making and do it in a fairly tidy two and half hours.

The film has the true mark of astounding cinema all over it, leaving audiences simultaneously invigorated and worn out; fulfilled and empty; angry and happy; satisfied with the answers provided by the film while overflowing with questions that will surely be stamped down and buried, to be or not to be revisited at a later date and time.

Revisiting stamped down and buried feelings is at the heart of Zero Dark Thirty.

In Time Magazine’s stirring May 2012 article about how the killing of Bin Laden came to be, George W. Bush’s last CIA Director Michael Hayden said, “I can only speak with authority through February 15, 2009, but at that point, when people would ask ‘When’s the last time you really knew where he was?’ my answer was Tora Bora in 2001.”

The fact that there was even a story to tell is a testament to the real Americans, like Maya, whose actions were the backbone behind the actors’ words and gestures, and therein lies the true power of the film.

Regardless of what pettiness is playing out in the media today, and regardless of what is being thought, said and not said around dinner tables in every American household, men and women like Maya were giving their lives to the mission of getting Usama Bin Laden, before, during and after 9/11.

While Former U.S. President George W. Bush stood at Ground Zero, on top of still smoldering human remains and twisted metal, atop the largest mass grave ever in post Civil War American history telling the American people, “I can hear you! I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” American men and women were giving their lives to the mission of getting Osama Bin Laden.

And while Former President Bush was preparing to say “Mission Accomplished”, telling the world a mere six months after 9/11 regarding Bin Laden that, “We haven’t heard from him in a long time. Terror is bigger than one person. He’s a person who’s now been marginalized. He met his match. I don’t know where he is. I just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.” American men and women were giving their lives to the mission of getting Osama Bin Laden.

Similar to its box office competition Argo, Zero Dark Thirty is a story based in reality about ordinary people (and Seal Team 6) staring down and overcoming fear and terror, in order to accomplish extraordinary feats.

Unlike Argo, Zero Dark Thirty is a story that is still playing out today.

The film’s culminating moment, the killing of Bin Laden, was literally documented on video and watched by many, in the now infamous President Obama Situation Room photo.

The timeliness of the film is where the real magic happens for audiences. People can fill in the blanks of their memories from 2001 to present day, gaining a truer understanding of the sacrifices that American men and women were making for us to live under the safety that we’ve all grown accustomed to.

And while names like WorldCom’s Cynthia Cooper and Enron’s Sherron Watkins will surely be erased from American history books just as quickly as they were erased from American hearts and minds, every American should go see Zero Dark Thirty and take the time to remember the name of CIA operative Maya.

Reach Staff Reporter Ryan Nunez here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

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