Director focuses on details in dramatization of hunt for Osama bin Laden

Kathryn Bigelow focuses on the people involved in the hunt for bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty.”
BY DENNIS KING Modified: January 10, 2013 at 5:55 pm •  Published: January 11, 2013
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Details add drama

Although audiences go in knowing the outcome, Bigelow insisted that it's the minutely detailed progress of the hunt that gives the story its most compelling tug.

“Well, certainly, it doesn't lend itself to spoilers,” Bigelow said of the film's foregone climax. “I think what was so strong and what struck me so much about the screenplay was how inherently dramatic the story and that 10-year journey were. It was a very riveting, galvanizing story that gave us a real glimpse into the intelligence hunt on the ground through the eyes of the characters that Jessica and Jason (Clarke) play.

“We get a glimpse of what it would be like to hunt the world's most dangerous man — the dedication, the courage, the sacrifice and the price that they paid personally, especially some of their colleagues who did not survive. It was inherently a very dramatic piece. The fact that you knew the ending only amplified the drama.”

From early on, much controversy and debate arose from certain of the picture's most gut-wrenching and troubling scenes — those depicting the use of torture (or, euphemistically, “enhanced interrogation methods”) by American agents to extract information from terrorist suspects.

“There's no question that that methodology is controversial, but there was no debate on whether or not to include it in the movie because it's part of the history,” Bigelow said. “It was really a question of finding the right balance.”

Part of the history

Chastain admitted that those scenes were especially difficult to shoot, but she knew they were an essential part of the whole story.

“It's a part of the history of the characters, and instead of looking at it and making my own judgments on what I personally believe is right and wrong, I try to look at it in terms of the character,” she said. “(Maya) shows up in her suit to go to what she believes is going to be a normal interrogation. It becomes much more intense than she imagines.”

Boal noted that he was extremely careful not to draw a direct link between the use of torture and the final information that led to the location of bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad.

The story strives to show, he said, that the eventual location of the terrorist came through old-fashioned, day-to-day intelligence investigation.

“I understand those (torture) scenes are graphic and unsparing and unsentimental,” Boal said, “but I think what the film does over the course of more than two hours is show the complexity of the debate and the number of different ways that information came in to the CIA.”

And as for the film's climactic scene in which the elite Navy SEAL team took down bin Laden, Bigelow said that was purposely kept largely clinical, without macho action-movie heroics and with barely a glimpse of bin Laden himself.

“Our thinking was this is about the people, the men and women on the ground in the workforce, who found this house, and then therefore, found this man,” the director said.

“Ultimately, it's not really about him as much as it's about them. They humanized that hunt and humanized that journey. It's their story.”