Magazine article The New Yorker

Bin Laden, the Movie

Magazine article The New Yorker

Bin Laden, the Movie

Article excerpt

Kathryn Bigelow paid a visit to the 9/11 Memorial, in downtown Manhattan, last week. It was twenty days since she had finished the final edits on "Zero Dark Thirty," a nearly two-and-a-half-hour movie about the killing of Osama bin Laden, and two weeks before the film's opening. The events that the movie dramatizes took place only nineteen months ago. "There's no distance,'' she said, running her fingers over the names of victims chiselled in granite. "What we were attempting is almost a journalistic approach to film.''

Bigelow, a tall, striking woman who was dressed in black, also directed "The Hurt Locker," about an American bomb-disposal unit in Iraq, while the war was still going on. (She said that when she was trying to raise money for that movie "one guy said, 'I like it, but could you set it in the United States?' ") On May 1, 2011, when President Obama announced that bin Laden had been killed in a raid by Navy SEALs, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Bigelow was already deep into making a movie about him--about how he'd got away. After she heard the news, she and the screenwriter, Mark Boal, decided to scrap the movie in progress and make one about the raid itself. She said, "I am motivated by the difficult." For the next year and a half, she shuttled between locations in Jordan, India, and London, eager to finish the movie while the raid was fresh in the minds of Americans. Asked what she did other than work during this period, she laughed: "Nothing, nothing, nothing."

To reconstruct the raid, she and Boal consulted Navy SEALs and C.I.A. staff who had taken part in the mission. The scene--rendered, she said, to give "the illusion of real time"--was shot at night, using cameras fitted with night-vision lenses to convey what the SEALs themselves saw. "I felt we had a responsibility to be faithful to the material,'' Bigelow said. "And it was an inherently dramatic story." The film includes wrenching scenes of a terrorist suspect being waterboarded and subjected to other forms of torture by C.I.A. operatives; the suspect eventually surrenders information that helps lead to bin Laden. Bigelow maintains that everything in the film is based on first-hand accounts, but the waterboarding scene, which is likely to stir up controversy, appears to have strayed from real life. According to several official sources, including Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the identity of bin Laden's courier, whose trail led the C. …

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