Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) are no strangers to controversy and they've incited plenty already during pre-production on their new project: a dramatization of SEAL Team Six's hunt for (and eventual killing of) terrorist figurehead Osama bin Laden, which had previously gone by the unofficial title of Kill bin Laden.
The film is now being referred to as Zero Dark Thirty - a military term for a non-specific hour when it is still dark outside - and has begun principal photography. Shooting is currently taking place in the Indian city of Chandigarh, which is "playing" the Pakistani city of Lahore (much to certain locals' chagrin).
Reuters has reported that the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) group staged a small, but vehement protest against the Zero Dark Thirty production earlier this week. Bigelow's project seemingly has the Indian government's support, so its filming timeline shouldn't be thrown off schedule.
The VHP organization's anger stems from the violent history between India and Pakistan, which have engaged in some three wars over the past 65 years (since India won its independence in 1947) and consider one another to be a "sworn enemy."
Bigelow had actually begun the casting process for Zero Dark Thirty prior to the official confirmation of bin Laden's death back in May 2011. Boal's early script draft for the project dealt with a previous, but unsuccessful U.S. military operation to track down and kill the Al Qaeda head when he was suspected to be seeking refuge in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. That screenplay was thereafter retooled in order to better incorporate the "happy ending" to the story and the re-started casting process really began to heat up around the last two months of 2011.
Zero Dark Thirty has now assembled a motley cast of credible character actors and actresses, which reportedly includes Joel Edgerton (Warrior), Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain (The Help), Emmy-winner Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), Jason Clarke (Public Enemies), Jennifer Ehle (Contagion), Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes), Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation), and Fares Fares (Safe House).
That said, the filmmakers have yet to release an official synopsis for Zero Dark Thirty - and none of the aforementioned thespians are technically "confirmed" to appear in the film. People like Édgar Ramírez (the upcoming Wrath of the Titans) and even Brad Pitt have also been either rumored or linked directly to the project in the past, but their potential involvement is even more of a dubious matter. Similarly, it's not entirely clear what roles each respective cast member will be playing, as Bigelow's movie is said to feature a combination of SEAL Team members, CIA operatives, and other related U.S. government official characters.
Actually, the "anonymous" casting process for Zero Dark Thirty has already been (half-jokingly) referred to as a "method casting" approach, as active-duty SEALs are required to keep their identities unknown to the public. Hence, the real-life SEALs who appeared in last month's Act of Valor have essentially gone uncredited for their parts in that film.
Act of Valor has been widely praised for its highly-accurate portrayal of combat technics and largely realistic battle scenarios, but also heavily criticized for being a thematically-weak cinematic experience which appeals foremost (panders?) to those with previous military experience. The Hurt Locker, by comparison, has garnered numerous critical accolades and awards for being an intensely-constructed war thriller, but its depiction of U.S. soldiers (from how they dress to their behavior) has been dismissed by many combat veterans as laughably absurd at times.
That's all to say, the bar has been raised for Bigelow and Boal to make Zero Dark Thirty a film that both marks a noteworthy improvement from The Hurt Locker in terms of its attention to detail, while also offering more complex characters and a nuanced narrative which thoughtfully touches on issues concerning the interaction between modern warfare and geo-political concerns (among other issues). Here's to hoping the pair hit a home run with their latest collaboration.
Zero Dark Thirty remains scheduled to arrive in theaters around the U.S. on December 19th, 2012.
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