Bigelow treading fine line over death of Bin Laden

Swedish actor Fares Fares, center, performs on the sets of Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow's upcoming film about Osama bin Laden in Chandigarh, India
Swedish actor Fares Fares, center, performs on the sets of Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow's upcoming film about Osama bin Laden in Chandigarh, India
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The hype is building, says Tony Earnshaw as Kathryn Bigelow counts down to the release of her film on the hunt for Bin Laden.

Expectation and anticipation for Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker follow-up Zero Dark Thirty has reached fever pitch with the release of a 75-minute trailer for the new movie which documents the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden.

A poster for the film, released in the US in December and in the UK late in January 2013, shows an aerial view of Bin Laden’s compound as US helicopters containing the team that was to locate and shoot him fly overhead.

Insiders claim the film will eschew heavy political overtones – “The President is not depicted in the movie” says scriptwriter Mark Boal – in favour of a tense cat-and-mouse tale that focuses on the finale of the 10-year hunt to find, capture or exterminate “the world’s most wanted man”.

Bin Laden died on May 2 2011. At that time Bigelow claims she was already working on a version of his story based on the book Kill Bin Laden. The project was then swiftly rewritten to accommodate his death.

“It’s a thriller, it’s a drama, it’s a mystery, it’s historical,” Bigelow has been quoted as saying. “It’s one of the great stories of our time.” True enough. But it’s how the story is treated – and what represents the truth – that will define the movie and, by extension, Bigelow’s choice of subject matter and her longer-term career.

Could a movie be a bigger red flag? Not in America. Just as Oliver Stone and Paul Greengrass tackled aspects of the 9/11 attacks, so the operation to track down and eliminate Bin Laden was a film that had to be made to salve the open wounds of September 11 and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. But Boal’s comment – a deliberate warning to those who might see Zero Dark Thirty as a Democratic flag-waver – is most telling: Barack Obama does not play a part. And who can blame him? By the time the film is released Obama could be yesterday’s news and Mitt Romney may be ensconced in the Oval Office.

Boal and Bigelow have referred to the Bin Laden mission as “an American triumph” and an “enormous victory”. And such it was in the eyes of millions of Americans.

Yet there is a mighty risk that the film – and its perceived response by the United States – will further whip up anti-American sentiment around the world. For it risks straddling two camps: those who want to see an accurate depiction of perhaps the most intricate intelligence operation ever mounted, and those yearning for a gung-ho action flick which ends with the death of the ultimate bad guy.

The Hurt Locker took the 2010 Oscar for Best Picture. Doubtless Bigelow is hoping for a repeat experience. Time will tell.

The rise of Bigelow’s star

Kathryn Bigelow’s first full-length feature was The Loveless in 1987, a bike film starring Willem Dafoe.

Her star began to rise with Point Break in 1991. She became a household name with the The Hurt Locker in 2008. However, despite taking $100m at the box office and winning Bigelow an Oscar, the critical reception was lukewarm.