The film tells the story of CIA operative Maya who commits her life to hunting down Osama bin Laden (referred to as UBL in the film, presumably to avoid the whole Obama/Osama mix up) We start with no picture but sounds from 9/11 including the distressful conversation where a victim screams in tears from the top of the WTC over the phone to an emergency operator that she is terrified she is about to die, only for the operator to loose the connection to her after the towers collapse. Harrowing stuff, but blatantly warning us to have no illusions of what is to come. What does follow is the decade post 9/11 including the Khobar massacre in 2004, London 7/7 bombings in 2005 and the Mumbai attacks in 2008, though for some reason, unlike 9/11, Bigelow chose to illustrate these attacks quite vividly in the film. There are also light references to America/Britain’s appalling intelligence to WMD in Iraq, though Bigelow steers clear of any political shortcomings regarding that issue.
Most controversial is the depiction of torture used by the Americans to gain information about UBL and al Quada. The use of water boarding and extraordinary rendition (where prisoners are extradited to a country where certain forms of torture aren’t illegal so they can be tortured there) is bluntly portrayed in the first half of the film. However much of this is already heavily documented by the media, so whilst it makes for shocking “in your face” film making, I was left wondering whether dramatising it would bring any fresher angle on the subject. I’m not sure it did, though I imagine it may help with “closure” for many potential audience members.
It’s hardly a spoiler if I tell you UBL dies in the end. Yup, the “good guys win” – yay! For that reason alone, this film will be a hit amongst patriotic conservative Americans! But Bigelow’s ending is curious and a little confusing. Throughout the film there have been mentions, almost like a tiny subplot, that Maya leads quite a lonely existence. And the film ends with her feeling quite lonely, empty and isolated on a massive aircraft carrier, now her task is complete. Not sure I understood it. Odd choice.
Any other criticism, however, would be nit-picking (if I’ve not done so already). Prepare yourself for a heavy duty, two and a half hour epic that documents a chapter in history that has left many dead and many non the wiser. Whether you call it Jihad or the War on Terror, there will never be winners. There will only be those deluded enough to think that violence and killing makes the world a better place!