zero dark thirty feature 2

First Look at Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty

From EW: Zero Dark Thirty, a chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, began generating partisan critiques before even a frame of film was shot. Now director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are finally opening up — though they remain extremely guarded — in their first interviews about the project.

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.”

(thanks Mel!) Check out a few stills after the cut.

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.”

Distributor Columbia Pictures was sensitive to the criticism that the film might be viewed as an effort to remind the public about Obama’s decision to authorize the strike, and decided last fall to move the film’s debut from October to December, well after the upcoming election.

Boal and Bigelow were planning a movie about the hunt for bin Laden long before he was ever located. The two had a finished script about the 2001 siege in the mountains of Tora Bora along the Afghan border, where bin Laden was believed to be hiding before escaping without a trace, and were just about to begin shooting when the raid came in May 2011.

“The minute we heard the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed, what we had been working on became history,” Bigelow writes. “As interesting a story as that would have been to tell, the news re-directed our entire efforts. It changed the movie idea forever.”

Boal said he tossed out his original script entirely and started from scratch. “But a lot of the homework I’d done for the first script and a lot of the contacts I made, carried over,” he added. “The years I had spent talking to military and intelligence operators involved in counterterrorism was helpful in both projects. Some of the sourcing I had developed long, long ago continued to be helpful for this version.”

Bigelow says the story couldn’t have been told without Boal’s background as a journalist. “There are pieces of this puzzle that you can only discern through in-depth research,” she wrote. “Research on this movie was exhaustive and thorough and unbelievably time consuming, and it was Mark’s investigative skills and experience in reporting in this space that enabled us to navigate the sheer complexity of the pursuit.”

“I was looking for the human component, and I was also looking for the untold story,” Boal adds. “You spend enough time looking at these stories and what’s out there is true but partial, incomplete. I was interested in the human element and I was interested in the element that had yet to be portrayed.”

Asked if Zero Dark Thirty will actually make news about the raid, Boal chuckles at the other end of the phone line, a little wearily. “It’s tough to predict because we’re not coming out for 600,000 news cycles,” he says. “Let’s just wait and see on that. I’m happy to answer that question in December, but it’s really hard to predict right now. I hope the film will portray this story in a way that people find surprising and believable, and moving. And I do think it’s moving, emotionally. It’s not a documentary. It’s a movie.”

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40 Comments

  1. The Pope
    August 6, 2012

    I dunno. Bigelow is a director I admire very much. Her cinematic prowess is A Grade… but this material is the sort of thing that Tarantino parodied in the film within Inglourious Basterds.

    So far, Zero Dark Thirty smacks of jingoistic, back-slapping triumphalism. The bad end of what Golan-Globus churned out in the 80s under the Cannon banner.

  2. Ryan Adams
    August 6, 2012

    Zero Dark Thirty smacks of jingoistic, back-slapping triumphalism.

    Gosh, you must love WWII movies.

    Sorry you’re disappointed that not every mission can be Black Hawk Down.

  3. Ryan Adams
    August 6, 2012

    but this material is the sort of thing that Tarantino parodied in the film within Inglourious Basterds.

    That almost made sense. Except Bigelow’s movie is FACT. Tarantino’s was Nazi snuff porn.

  4. moviewatcher
    August 6, 2012

    Who is the woman playing the girl with the ponytail? Is that Jessica Chastain? She certainly didn’t sound like her.

    Anyway, I like this trailer. If I didn’t know anything about the Oscars, I’d still be interested to see it. It doesn’t sound like an action film. It sounds more like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (which I really liked) but with the narrative drive of American cinema.

  5. Rashad
    August 6, 2012

    Ryan, Zoller’s heroics were real (in the movie). They were just dramatized for Pride of a Nation, like this is.

    This isn’t going to be a documentary.

  6. jaraizh
    August 6, 2012

    Moviewatcher, I think that is Jennifer Ehle.

  7. steve50
    August 6, 2012

    “smacks of jingoistic, back-slapping triumphalism”

    I don’t get that at all from the trailer. Bigelow is better than most of her male counterparts at avoiding that kind of judgementalism and sentimentality.

  8. moviewatcher
    August 6, 2012

    jaraizh: Thanks!

  9. The Pope
    August 6, 2012

    Ryan,
    I admire Black Hawk Down greatly. I think that movie is saved from jingoism because of the fact that that the operation was a disaster and the marines were literally run out of town. The film balanced power and loss and regret and anger in a very responsible manner. Unless ZDT has within it a sense of loss (9.11) and opposed to blanket revenge I can’t see any complexity (and hence depth) to this.

    As for comparison to Basterds, yes it was a bit off. I have no problem with a lot of WWII movies because well… they are time pieces now.

  10. therealmike
    August 6, 2012

    That poster is pretty dull, no?

  11. steve50
    August 6, 2012

    To me, the poster suggests a dirty job that has to be done – no glory, no flag waving and definitely no triumph. I think it says a lot about what to expect.

  12. Bryce Forestieri
    August 6, 2012

    Looks like WB realized they have nothing special with The Great Gatsby. The Trailer sure looks shite.

  13. tony
    August 6, 2012

    So word’s going around that The Great Gatsby has been moved to next summer. Weird.

  14. August 6, 2012

    Alright, none of you assholes better spoil the ending :(

    As for jingoism, wasn’t this one of those moments when America kinda did good? After a decade of overseas clusterfucks, it’s nice to celebrate ONE event that happened as intended. And I’m not really getting jingoism at all; I see this as an intense, behind-the-scenes deal that’ll probably focus on the immense conflicts behind the attack, not the chest-thumping that occurred afterward. Bigelow’s too smart to just tell us what we already know.

  15. moviewatcher
    August 6, 2012

    Oh god… The Great Gatsby moved to the Summer? Leo, say goodbye to oscar nomination for “gatsby”, say hi to oscar nom for “wolf of wall street”.

  16. Determined
    August 6, 2012

    Cannot wait. And I’m glad, just like Bigelow’s last film, they’ve chosen to keep politics out of it. It would have been nice to capture the bastard and publicly hang him at ground zero.

  17. JFK
    August 6, 2012

    I like the poster, but the trailer seems a little lackluster. I’m hoping that Bigelow is just holding her cards.

  18. MikeS
    August 6, 2012

    Knowing the ending isn’t going to make this any less suspenseful, remember we knew how Apollo 13 ended as well.
    As far as jingoism goes, I wouldn’t call The Hurt Locker particularly jingoistic, and here we have the same screenwriter and director.

  19. moviewatcher
    August 6, 2012

    JFK: Actually, some critics actually gave Apollo 13 a bad review because they thought the ending was unreal, it could never happen in real life. I would like to kick those critics from here to sunday. Apollo 13 is a great movie.

    But of course, this is a very different situation… everybody knows…

  20. tony
    August 6, 2012

    In what universe are The Hurt Locker and Black Hawk Down jingoistic? They’re both anti-war movies.

  21. Maxim
    August 6, 2012

    The Pope, got a quick question for you. Did you bring up Golan-Globus entirely on your own or where you reminded of them due to a recent AICN article on Cannon Films? Just curious to see if the internet is actually that small after all ;) .

    Those films, by the way, probably don’t have a quarter of real jingoism (or even racism) of something like Stallone’s more recent Rambo 4.

    In regards to ZDT… It was a mission that was part revenge, part elimination of a real active threat. And now it’s a movie. I don’t even know what to think about that.

  22. Jerry
    August 6, 2012

    Looks promising. Oscar nom #2 for Jessica Chastain?

  23. Fake
    August 6, 2012

    Uhh. You might want to check the veracity of your posters before you post them. This fake was obviously fashioned from this image that was posted on May 10, 2011.

    http://forums.bowsite.com/tf/bgforums/thread-print.cfm?threadid=396021&forum=1

  24. rufussondheim
    August 6, 2012

    Not trying to be a downer, but this story really isn’t over. Like so many events in American History, our actions have unforeseen consequences. I have no idea what will happen next but I’m well aware that the US is ridiculously unpopular in Pakistan. What will happen ten years or more as a result of this. No one knows. Maybe nothing (let’s hope.)

    I mention this because I hope the movie isn’t overly nationalistic or even patriotic in its tone. I will respect the film more if it’s extremely focused on individual accomplishments and the effects of the events on the people involved. I would respect Bigelow a great deal if we never once saw a photo of any US President and never saw footage or re-creations of any terrorist attack.

    The last thing this needs to be is a revenge drama.

  25. The Pope
    August 6, 2012

    Maxim,
    No I’m happy to say I remembered Golan-Globus all on my own (part of my teenage years). But isn’t it saying a lot that even though G-G made some rancid films in the 80s (and it must be hastily added, financed some really good stuff), that those films pale in comparison to what Stallone did in Rambo 4.

    And just so no one understands me: I hold The Hurt Locker and Black Hawk Down in very high regard. I hope that ZDT maintains Bigelow’s standard but from the trailer, I don’t sense any nuance, which we know she has. But then again this is only 90 seconds and it’s all broad strokes.

  26. jeremy09
    August 6, 2012

    I tell you what, this title sucks. I just seen the trailer and I’ve already forgotten it. Dark Zero some number?

  27. drake
    August 6, 2012

    boy i hope this is good… bigelow is like 2 for 8 making good movies… i loved “near dark” and “hurt locker” but she has a lot of duds in their- a majority

  28. tipsy
    August 6, 2012

    Meh, uninteresting treaser to the core. This won`t put my butt in the seat so try something better. I remember when they released The Hurt Locker teaser, that nail-biter opening with Guy Pierce. I ran off to see the movie right away. There were,like, 5 of us in the theater, way before all the Oscar hype. Summer time. Anyway, the movie didn`t live up to that opening scene. I still remember that scene and not much else. never wanted to see it again. It was OK but forgettable. Good acting, though, not so much the story.

    Anyway, maybe this is the opposite, blah, forgettable, generic teaser but memorable holy s**** Batman movie?

  29. PaulH
    August 6, 2012

    Elton John wrote a song about Kathryn Bigelow back in the day, and I’ll just leave it at that. I have zero respect for the woman whose film destroyed the 2009 Oscars with her boxoffice megaton bomb, the least seen Best Picture winner in American movie history. The platinum standard of Brinks jobs. Her partner on slime, Boal; wonder if Chartier is also involved, too, the a-hole who without a speck of shame, campaigned for The Moive Which Shall Not Be Named.

    I wish negative boxoffice for ZDT. That it gets it’s ass kicked at every awards show. Yeah, I’m still holding a grudge, sorry.

  30. JBM
    August 6, 2012

    I’m sorry but when a film like this claims “this is how it really happened”, I’m obligated to cry bullsh!+……
    This film is clearly aimed at people who don’t read the news or know a damn thing about Bin Laden or Seal Team Six.
    Ryan, you need to know your facts before you call this FACT. The fact of the matter is that the events to be portrayed in this film are no more fact than Inglorious Basterds…..

  31. JP
    August 6, 2012

    In the beginning I was not very confident about this film, but I’m changing my mind. I think it will be in the race. Does anyone know if Chastain is lead or supporting? The lead category is so open that she could be in the mix.

  32. Mrs Rochester
    August 6, 2012

    Why so much hate????
    In my eyes, the woman who helmed “Strange Days” can do no wrong!!!!!!

  33. Jerm
    August 6, 2012

    Obama backed out on the attack on Bin Laden a few times, and in fact he wasnt the one who ordered the attack anyways. I think this movie will be filled with lies. Boal and Bigelow can say what they want, but people only make films like this to make political statements. They had permission to secret stuff, they were only allowed that because it was going to praise Obama. Believe what you want, but just so we are clear this is a load of crap. I hate political movies, especially when they make it to the Oscars. I wish ill will on this film.

  34. Ben
    August 7, 2012

    The Hurt Locker was a fluke won’t be a blip on the awards season radar. Bigelow is not a grade a director and everybody other then ryan and sasha have forgotten about the hurt locker.

  35. steve50
    August 7, 2012

    “I hate political movies, especially when they make it to the Oscars.”

    Yeah. Z, All the President’s Men, Battle of Algiers, The Candidate, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Dr Strangelove, The Best Man, All the King’s Men, Election, The Manchurian Candidate, Frost/Nixon, Thank You for Smoking, Nashville, Mississippi Burning, Under Fire, No Man’s Land, Joyeux Noel, Grand Illusion….

  36. brian
    August 7, 2012

    I thought The Hurt Locker was so-so but this looks great!
    Can’t wait to see it … : )

  37. Mark
    August 8, 2012

    Yeah the whole Hurt Locker Oscar show was a bit strange. It’s an ok film (very well-made) but hardly a Best Picture winner. I mean, Hurt Locker wins BP and Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and The Thin Red Line didn’t?

    Crazy days.

    Anyways, i’m a huge Bigelow fan from back in the day. Near Dark, Point Break and Strange Days are all sensational.

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