“Zero Dark Thirty,” which recounts the decade-long search for and killing of Osama bin Laden, opens with a black screen and the sound of panicked 9-11 voices desperately making a final verbal connection with the outside world. The set-up is pure Mercurial activity: thought, speech, communication and transportation between the real world and hell. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty” runs with that archetype which ultimately becomes the signature of Maya (Jessica Chastain), the female CIA operative whose professional mission is to kill bin Laden.
Maya, clearly a respectful follower when we first see her wearing a classy black suit at a torture site, grows into her Mercury over the next 10 years. In an early interrogation, her colleague Dan (Jason Clarke) tells her there’s no shame if she’d rather watch the proceedings on a monitor. But the word from Washington is that “she’s a killer” and she validates the hype in short order.
Sifting visually and mentally through data-chaos with her team, Maya pursues anything Mercurial that might yield actionable intelligence. Included are online chatter, phone calls made at call centers, suspects’ names, money transfers (Mercury rules commerce), tracking suspicious locations, paying for local citizens’ to spy, and even buying a Middle Eastern prince a Lamborghini in exchange for a phone number. As a new higher up tells the relentless Maya, “I learned from my predecessor that life is better when I don’t disagree with you.”
A decade into the hunt, when confirmation of identity of a long-pursued Osama-courier suspect results in uncovering bin Laden’s likely fortress, Maya’s back in Washington – travel is Mercury’s bailiwick, and in her mission she’s proverbially running errands for the gods – pushing for a green light to attack. Hundreds of days pass without a decision, and she explosively records (Mercury) the passage of time on the higher ups’ offices’ glass partitions.
For many, the descent of the Navy SEAL team onto bin Laden’s hideaway at zero dark thirty – military-speak for 30 minutes past midnight – will be the movie’s high point. For others, watching the discovery process build, unfold and deliver is the prize: Maya’s information is tied to and generated by discipline and detail (Saturn); sudden (Uranus) revelation; visionary goals and wading through the lies and false leads (Neptune); and torture and in-depth analysis (Pluto).
“Zero Dark Thirty,” stunningly Mercurial, makes a strong case that a shrewd target requires an equally shrewd seeker. As Maya deduced, bin Laden was either improbably holed up in a cave or more likely living in a city with “access to communication.” Turns out not even al Qaeda can resist the winged god.
Rating: ☿/♄/♅ / ♆/♇ (Mercury/Saturn/Uranus/Neptune/Pluto)