Zero Dark Thirty will be an unusual film in that the climax of the story is already widely known and it’s the set-up that remains mysterious. Bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011 by the U.S. Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six, but what remains largely unknown is the true backstory behind the raid, and how intelligence agencies and the military connected the dots that eventually brought them to that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
“I’m fascinated by people who dedicate themselves to really difficult and dangerous things for the greater good,” Boal said in a phone interview. “I think they’re heroic and I’m intrigued by them. I’m fascinated by the world they inhabit. I personally want to know how they caught bin Laden. All I can do is hope that it interests other people.”
The trailer is highly stylized, emphasizing the secrecy of the story with its use of the kind of bars used to black out information on redacted classified documents. In an email interview, Bigelow explains the significance of the title: “It’s a military term for 30 minutes after midnight, and it refers also to the darkness and secrecy that cloaked the entire decade long mission.”
The teaser also suggests a grittier, more deadly, boots-on-the-ground pursuit of information, rather than a drama about decisions made at the top in Washington.
This has been the primary source of controversy: Opponents of President Barack Obama have been eager for the public to avoid any reminders this election year that the Commander-in-Chief gave that order authorizing the raid that finally took down the terrorist mastermind.
The makers of Zero Dark Thirty insist their film is a study of the unsung heroes who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to take down bin Laden, not a celebration of Obama’s decision. When they made the Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker in 2008, which won them Oscars for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture, Bigelow and Boal were praised (and sometimes slammed) for leaving politics out of the film. They say they’re doing the same thing this time.
“There’s no political agenda in the film. Full stop. Period,” says Boal, a veteran journalist and war correspondent. “A lot of people are going to be surprised when they see the film. For example, the president is not depicted in the movie. He’s just not in the movie.”