January 09, 2013
“Jen“ is the name used in former Navy SEAL Mark Bissonette’s book No Easy Day for the firecracker CIA woman who identified Osama’s body when the SEALs brought it back to Afghanistan. (I would guess that the alias “Jen” was chosen as a memorial to Jennifer Matthews, the mother of three and CIA manager who was blown up by a Saudi double agent in Afghanistan in 2009. Jennifer Ehle plays her in this movie.)
Bissonette says Jen was recruited by the CIA “straight out of college” and has been chasing Osama for five years. In Zero Dark Thirty, she’s been chasing the real Osama for twelve years.
There’s something faintly absurd in this International Woman of Mystery being played by Chastain, who would be the last person in world to blend into a crowd in Pakistan…or anywhere. Besides her bright red hair and alabaster skin, she has Bob Hope’s ski jump nose, Keira Knightley’s jaw, and Mick Jagger’s mouth. When she puts on a black wig, she looks as if she belongs on the cover of a Rolling Stones album from their mid-60s teenybopper phase.
Or maybe Jen really does look like Chastain, which could be reflective of the CIA’s difficulties recruiting anybody trustworthy who looks Muslim.
Or perhaps the casting of Chastain is a ruse by the filmmakers to distract vengeful Arab terrorists from identifying the real Jen. Bigelow is an ambitious filmmaker, but she is also a patriotic American who doesn”t want her countrymen targeted.
The freshest thing about Bigelow’s conception of Jen is that she isn”t a standard Hollywood butt-kicking babe. To carry out her implacable desire for justice upon Osama, she manipulates men into doing the rough stuff for her. In the raid scene, Bigelow makes clear that almost no woman could even carry the vast array of gear that 21st-century American soldiers lug into battle.
What Jen brings to the detective work is a deeply feminine understanding that al-Qaeda is a complex social organization assembled out of intricate personal relationships, many of them extended family ties of the kind that American men find hard to keep straight in their heads.
Is Zero Dark Thirty Obama Administration propaganda, as many Republicans complained last summer? Perhaps. Memorializing the Administration’s big headline accomplishment in a nail-biting movie can”t hurt approval ratings. Yet Obama himself is portrayed only briefly, in footage from a 2008 60 Minutes interview, and the CIA personnel seem to find him a bit of a stuffed shirt.
Zero Dark Thirty‘s screenwriter Mark Boal, a veteran warzone reporter who also penned The Hurt Locker, no doubt benefited from access to deep state officials all trying to stab each other in the back.
You can hazard a guess at whose cliques helped Boal and Bigelow and whose didn”t from the casting. In the only performance with massive star power, James Gandolfini triumphantly plays former CIA Director Leon Panetta as a lovable cross between Tony Soprano and Santa Claus. In contrast, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, an Irish-American political hack (formerly of Fannie Mae) who is unpopular with the military, is depicted as a supercilious twit who sports, for no discernible reason, an English accent.
I realize I”m a notorious extremist, so nobody in a position of power would ever dream of trying my idea to battle terrorism. But how about”now that we finally got Osama”if we torture and bomb less abroad and ethnically profile more at home?