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Zero Dark Thirty, Homeland Warriors, Book Reviews

Zero Dark Thirty

Review By :- Monica Arora

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After having reviewed a couple of books for the Homeland Warriors magazine on the US Navy SEAL Operation that eventually resulted in the successful termination of perhaps the most (in)famous man and dreaded terrorist in the world, Osama Bin Laden, I approached Zero Dark Thirty with trepidation and anticipation. Zero Dark Thirty, a 2012 Hollywood feature film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal was being portrayed as "the story of history's greatest manhunt for the world's most dangerous man". Zero Dark Thirty, the title essentially refers to the time when Osama was finally killed, at thirty minutes past midnight. In fact, parts of Lahore and Abbottabad, in Pakistan, were recreated in suburban Chandigarh and the movie crew actually shot in India and hence there was much hype and hullabaloo surrounding it. 
The opening scene, basically a blank, dark screen with voice-overs of real survivors of the 9/11 Twin Tower killings, had me hooked and it set the perfect tone for what ensued. The film traces the multi-layered journey of Maya, essayed brilliantly by Jessica Chastain, who devotes more than a decade of her career in tracing the whereabouts of Osama and eventually finding him. The focused dedication and diligence of this one-woman army and her unwavering quest to nab this terrorist has been portrayed with such realism, that Jessica Chastain had been nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars and won the Golden Globe Award for her acting prowess.
Maya persists in her quest despite being embroiled in the 2008 Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing as well as surviving an armed assault in her car by armed men and slowly, after a lot of disappointments and disillusionments littering her path, including the death of her colleague, she finally zeroes in on the courier, who eventually points out to the Abbottabad fortress-like mansion where Osama was residing in his final days. In this process, she encounters several prisoners, suspects and Al-Qaeda operatives, who are interrogated and sometimes even tortured to extract information. In fact, the movie drew sharp reactions from critics and human rights activist alike about its cruel and stark portrayal of torture, including waterboarding and humiliation. However, I feel that Bigelow has taken a very realistic and neutral stance on the issue as she has only depicted what actually happened and in that perspective, the interrogation scenes are quite close to reality.
Finally, when Maya is convinced that the house indeed is the haven of Osama and his immediate family, she has a tough time in trying to convince the CIA Director of her belief as no actual footage of the terrorist is actually available. However, her unrelenting conviction in her impeccable research finally enables her to persuade the Director to get the requisite permissions for conducting the secret mission on 2 May 2011 in the dead of the night, when two stealth F-16s bypass Pakistani radars to enter the cordoned compound and capture Osama. 
The final half hour of the movie vividly captures the details of Operation Neptune, whereby the Navy SEALS, fully armed and kitted, and wearing night vision goggles enter the house and the footage is also all green and grainy and dark, as must have been the commandos’ vision during the actual raid. How they go from room to room and gather Osama’s wives and children in a systematic and orderly manner and finally shoot ‘the man’ himself and then discover all the hard discs and other material from the house, makes for riveting viewing. And before their operation is detected by the Pakistani Defence forces, they manage to stuff Osama’s body in a bag and carry it back, along with other evidence that they have gathered, to a US airbase in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. 
For me the most heart-wrenching scene was the climax, when Maya weeps without any inhibition and lets out all the pent up anguish and frustration that she encountered during her twelve-year long tryst and discovers herself all alone in the end, without any friend or family to call her own. Indeed, it was a long and desolate road for the protagonist as we discover with each detail unfurling meticulously and slowly from scene to scene to present to the audience the trials and tribulation encountered on this deadly trail. It is a very important film that documents recent history with utmost sensitivity and painstaking research. A must-watch, in my opinion!