Thursday, January 10, 2013


Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal follow up THE HURT LOCKER, their harrowing drama about a bomb defuse squad during Operation Iraqi Freedom, with this sprawling, ambitious story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, attacks.  The film begins in 2003 with CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) joining field operative Dan (Jason Clarke) at a black site in Pakistan for an enhanced interrogation.  As she pours through detainee interviews, she begins to fixate on a courier that several informants claim runs messages between Abu Faraj al-Libbi, believed to be a high level member of al Qaeda, and bin Laden.  In the face of deep skepticism from Dan, co-worker Jessica (Jennifer Ehle), and supervisor Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), Maya becomes convinced that if she can locate this courier, she can locate bin Laden.  Boal’s script, based on first-hand accounts, chronicles Maya’s single-minded quest, incorporating significant attacks along its timeline:  the 2004 Al-Khobar massacre in Saudi Arabia, the 2005 London transport bombings, and the 2008 Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing, to name a few.  These horrific world events add to the film’s urgency and provide historical touchstones within the unfolding story.  After Maya finds the courier in a heavily fortified installation near Abbottabad, Pakistan, it still takes months before she’s able to convince the CIA Director (James Gandolfini) and the National Security Advisor (Stephen Dillane) to recommend an attack.  Bigelow stages the assault on the compound, and the gripping two hours that precede it, with matter-of-fact bravura, finding in the climactic sequence a tense balance between catharsis and unease.  The torture scenes are shocking; more so because the filmmakers neither condemn nor condone the tactic.  They merely acknowledge the well-documented fact and leave it to our own collective conscience to pass judgment.  The film asks us to face the moral cost of revenge, no matter how just.  And, as the final quiet shot of Maya’s tear-streaked face reminds us, vengeance leaves a dark mark.

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