The story of how Osama Bin Laden (OBL) died is well-suited for legendary story telling. The big questions surrounding it are “when they will start” and “how many will there be”.
Zero Dark Thirty does a good job for a first try. It dodges the neo-circus action sequences that are so common in spy movies these days, there is no love-interest sub-plot. It does a good job of living up to its “based on a true story” aspirations.
It is well filmed and kept my attention throughout.
That said, it did have some Technofiction flaws.
Disclaimer here: This topic of how to handle OBL is one I have written a lot about and have strong feelings about. This story does not match my feelings.
These movie makers faced a big problem: This story is, in reality, a complex tale. There was a whole lot of diplomacy among four nations involved — Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US. None of this shows up in the movie. The first half is about interrogating people in secret places and the second about showing the mission itself.
So, in the interests of keeping the story simple, and centering it on the total dedication of Maya, a CIA caseworker, the movie spends most of the first half on how to interrogate vicious terrorists. Ouch! This implies that doing this was the heart of finding OBL. The rest of the wide web cast by the CIA and other allied intelligence agencies was irrelevant.
An example of the internal consistency errors this leads into was questioning one of the terrorists about the specifics of an upcoming terrorist act months after he was caught. “Give me a date!” says the interrogator with meaningful menace.
…Eh? Plans don’t change? Dates don’t change? People don’t change? Especially when one of your inner circle gets caught? The point is that interrogation information gets stale, this was not at all brought up in the movie.
In the middle of the movie Maya feels dead-sure she has located OBL and gets impatient for action. She is writing days on her superior’s window.
What the movie doesn’t bring out is the huge diplomatic implications of going in and snatching OBL. The Paki’s were our allies! …at least some of them.
To give you a similar scenario based on the US environment:
o Suppose Bernard Madoff got outed, but slipped off to become a fugitive. Years are spent looking for him. The most common rumor is he’s hiding in Honduras somewhere.
o Suppose a dedicated Canadian caseworker reviews interrogations done on other people working in Madoff’s company. This case worker determines that Madoff is actually holed up in a gated community near Baltimore, and only a thirty minute drive from Annapolis!
o OK… Do the Canadians:
a) Launch their SEALS in choppers to land in Baltimore and “off” Madoff, then carry the body back to Canada?
b) Launch a big enough missile to crater the gated community? Then look for DNA afterwards?
c) Do a wee bit more research on the network of people owning the properties and coming and going, then discretely inform trusted elements in the US government that a rogue CIA group has been harboring Madoff… and how soon will they clean up their own dirty laundry?
This diplomatic element is completely missing from the movie, and, sadly, most thinking about this spectacular and emotionally-pleasing end to the Great Osama Bin Laden Hunt. Pleasing in the US, but this ending was a loud, very public, face-slap to our friends in the Pakistan government and communities.
So while the movie is well composed and interesting to watch. It sadly goes for intimate story telling rather than showing a big picture. In this, it shares a lot with Argo (2012).
A couple of smaller issues:
Even quietized choppers are noisy and windy. Yet after they disembark, and one chopper crashes, the SEALS go slow and quiet. This seems incongruous, but I make no claim to expertise in this issue.
The choppers while they are flying in to the target are flying real, real close to each other, especially considering this is nape-of-earth flying and at night.
Other than these issues, I found the house assault scenes quite interesting and believable.
In sum, the movie had a lot going for it, but it did a poor job at revealing the big picture these events unfolded in.