While the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the terrorist behind the horrific September 11 attacks of 2001, was a matter of the highest national interest for the US government, in Zero Dark Thirty (trailer), the latest feature of Kathryn Bigelow (“Point Break”, “The Hurt Locker”), it became a very personal endeavour for CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain).
In 2003, having spent her entire career with the CIA attempting to locate the al-Qaeda leader, Maya goes into the field for the first time. She travels to the US Embassy in Pakistan, where she joins Dan (Jason Clarke), who is, nearby, interrogating suspected al-Qaeda operatives, and their associates, often through the use of torture.
As her investigations progress, Maya becomes determined to find Abu Ahmed (Tushaar Mehra), an al-Qaeda courier, who she believes knows exactly where bin Laden is based. Despite hearing the courier had died some years earlier, Maya presses on with her search, and after a time discovers he is in fact alive but now using an alias.
He soon leads her, inadvertently, to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and eventually her CIA colleagues become certain that the terrorist leader is living there. Maya then travels to a US military base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where she briefs special forces troops preparing to storm the compound and attempt to capture bin Laden.
Telling any story where the outcome is already known will always be a challenge, but here Bigelow, in conjunction with screenwriter Mark Boal, unfurls a spellbinding tale of intrigue by honing in on many of the lesser known aspects of the operation that surrounded the hunt for, and killing of, the former al-Qaeda leader.
By framing the pursuit as a personal undertaking on the part of Maya, Bigelow instills cohesion to what was a long running, and disparate, venture, while at the same time offering an insight into the selfless, tedious, and often isolated work, and life, of intelligent agents who believe they are putting duty before themselves.