Director Kathryn Bigelow’s drama about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, has had an utterly fascinating history and promises some heated discussion in the months leading up to its release. The Oscar-winning director was already working on the project with her The Hurt Locker scribe Mark Boal when bin Laden was killed on May 2nd, 2011 by the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six. The two then began reworking the script to reflect these real-life events, and while the film’s production was kept under a veil of secrecy, we recently got our first look at the pic’s teaser trailer. The December release comes under quite a bit of controversy, as U.S. Representative Peter King and the republican group Judicial Watch have questioned whether President Obama’s administration shared confidential details about the mission with Bigelow’s production.
Bigelow and Boal have now finally spoken up about the project, addressing the political controversy, the reworking of the script, and just what exactly Zero Dark Thirty entails. Hit the jump to see what they had to say.
When President Obama delivered the news on May 2nd that we had finally killed the man responsible for the most devastating terrorist attack on American soil in history, Boal and Bigelow had already completed a script about an early attempt to hunt down bin Laden. That script followed a 2001 siege in the mountains of Tora Bora, where intelligence officials believed bin Laden was hiding before he escaped and essentially became a ghost.
During a lengthy discussion with EW, Bigelow talked about how the real-life events affected their project:
“The minute we heard the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed, what we had been working on became history. 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 admitted that he “tossed out” his script for the first film once we got bin Laden, but said that his research had not gone to waste. Many of the contacts he had made carried over, and “the years [he] spent talking to military and intelligence operators involved in counterterrorism” were helpful to this new version of the project as well.
Before winning the Academy Award for The Hurt Locker screenplay, Boal began his career as a journalist. He was embedded with troops and bomb squads in 2004 during the Iraq war, and used those experiences to inform the script for his first collaboration with Bigelow. With the added political controversy surrounding Zero Dark Thirty, it’s not exactly shocking that he and Bigelow are taking a “no comment” stance on some of the more specific questions, with Boal adding, “I’m going to protect my sources.”
Asked about the film’s politics, Boal adamantly states that there are none:
“There’s no political agenda in the film. Full stop. Period. 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.”
Though much will still surely be made about the controversy and politics surrounding the film, at the end of the day it is just that: a movie. Boal’s stated goal with the pic was to find the human element to this decade-long manhunt:
“I was looking for the human component, and I was also looking for the untold story. 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.”
Up until this point, we’ve actually known very little about the film’s characters and story. EW’s article reveals that Joel and Nash Edgerton are playing members of SEAL Team Six, Kyle Chandler is the CIA’s top official in Pakistan and Mark Strong plays another CIA analyst, with Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Edgar Ramirez, Harold Perrineau, Jennifer Ehle, and Mark Duplass portraying other intelligence agents. Boal describes the cast of characters thusly:
“It’s an ensemble of covert-ops teams — ground branch [field agents], case officers, spies, analysts, and operators.”
“I guess you could call it many things. It’s a thriller, it’s a drama, it’s a mystery, it’s historical, it’s one of the great stories of our time. It traces the anatomy of the decade long hunt for the world’s most wanted man… This is an amazing story about the triumph of will, dedication, and duty. [It’s] about the real life heroes in the intelligence community who worked behind the scenes day and night on what was perhaps the toughest assignment of their lives. As such, it’s a story that needs to be told respectfully.”
You can read much, much more over at EW, which I highly suggest you do. The road to Zero Dark Thirty’s release is not a straightforward story, and we’ll definitely be hearing a lot of heated discussion over the film’s history, intentions, and merits over the next few months. I, for one, am incredibly eager to see such an important American event portrayed onscreen with dignity and precision, and I’m hopeful that Bigelow and Boal’s iteration of the story does just that. Zero Dark Thirty opens on December 19th.