Barely a year and a half after the capture and killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, a movie depicting the decade-long mission to catch him has caused uproar from different factions of the American Government, anti-government groups and human rights activists.
The movie, Dark Zero Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, follows the journey of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) team that dedicated years to following every little detail and clue that could lead to a possible capture of the world’s most wanted and feared villain.
The movie’s plot commences in 2003 when CIA officer Maya (Jessica Chastain) is sent to the American embassy in Pakistan to work with a fellow agent Dan (Jason Clarke).
The two spend the first few months trying to get information from Ammar, a detained terrorist. Dan, a cold ruthless man who prefers monkeys to people as friends, uses torture and humiliation to get information from Ammar who despite his suffering remains quiet.
Eventually they trick him to giving up the name of Abu Ahmed— an alias used by an old acquaintance of bin Laden’s who was now working as his personal courier.
Dan is reassigned and Maya uses the next few years on the single task of finding Abu Ahmed. In the process, she survives several blasts and an attack by gun men. Furthermore, she loses numerous friends and colleagues through a suicide bombing.
In 2009, a detainee claims that the man identified as Abu Ahmed in a photograph the detectives have is a person he personally buried in 2001.
Maya’s seniors conclude that Abu Ahmed is long dead and they have wasted years following a dead trail. Maya remains adamant and some information from Moroccan intelligence leads her on a new theory that Abu Ahmed is actually alive and the photograph they have been using is that of Abu Ahmed’s brother who has a striking resemblance of him.
With the help of Dan, who is now back at the CIA headquarters, they are able to locate Abu Ahmed who eventually leads them to Osama’s compound and consequently to the raid and killing of the man with a $25 million bounty on his head on May 2, 2011.
Dark Zero Thirty, which was released worldwide on January 11, had to postpone its release scheduled for October last year until after the American elections. This was due to claims that it would serve as a propaganda tool for the Obama campaign team, to whom the killing of bin Laden was a big selling point.
The title, Dark zero Thirty, is a military term for 30 minutes after midnight. Director Kathryn Bigelow adds that the title is also symbolic to the darkness and secrecy that cloaked the entire decade-long mission.
The movie has been a commercial success beating star-studded Gangster Squad in ticket sales when they both premiered last weekend. It had raised over $29.5 million by last weekend and has bagged five Oscar nominations.
Most critics have reviewed the movie well with movie review website Rotten Tomatoes describing it as “gripping, suspenseful, and brilliantly crafted”.
“Zero Dark Thirty dramatises the hunt for Osama bin Laden with intelligence and an eye for detail,” it adds.
However, not everyone gave the movie a good rating. The film has enraged factions of the American people including senators led by John McCain, claiming the movie’s producers were given access to classified information by the CIA and Obama administration— a claim that the American Government has denied.
This forced the acting CIA director to issue a statement which in part read: “What I want you to know is that Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatisation, not a realistic portrayal of the facts. CIA interacted with the filmmakers through our Office of Public Affairs but, as is true with any entertainment project with which we interact, we do not control the final product.”
There have been further claims that the production is pro-torture and that it wrongfully portrays the use of torture as a key tool that was used to acquire information that led to bin Laden’s capture. And it is not without good cause.
The first hour of the two-and-a-half-hour-long film contains gory, brutal scenes of prisoners being tortured and humiliated. At best, a prisoner is punched around and at worst they are water-boarded, stripped, locked in tiny boxes, denied sleep and made to crawl around naked with a dog leash around their necks.
Author Greg Mitchell wrote that “the film’s depiction of torture helping to get bin Laden is muddled at best — but the overall impression by the end, for most viewers, probably will be: Yes, torture played a key (if not the key) role.”
Other critics had less than flattering remarks about the movie. Journalist Michael Wolff slammed the movie as a “nasty piece of pulp and propaganda.”