Zero Dark Thirty is an excellent film/docu-drama. Every major event that happens in the movie is historical and it’s left to the audience to determine the rest of its historicity and accuracy. Since the vast majority of the characters are CIA operatives they all have dummy names and even the depictions of those in higher offices aren’t officially named in the movie at any point. Obama isn’t even mentioned by name and is simply titled “the President” the few times he’s mentioned (though there is an interview prominently displayed in the background of one of the scenes).
This film had an odd development route as it began pre-production before Osama Bin Laden was actually killed, thus there are basically 2 predominant story arcs and kind of 2 protagonists. Ordinarily this would make such a film extremely disjointed but the way they handle the second protagonist makes it work and one might say it is convenient. We basically see the whole film from the eyes of said second protagonist, played by Jessica Chastain, while the first eventually fades into the background.
This film doesn’t really have any staggering surprises; there’s one extended setup in which the outcome is fairly obvious to anyone not aware of the historical event referenced (such as myself), and that’s maybe the film’s biggest weak point but it does provide a “killer” motivation to the main character. But again it’s all very convenient. Every character in this film seems to be based on an actual person, except for the main character. Now I’m sure there were about 5 different people that had her role in different situations and several of the things she says (and things that happen to her) were probably actually said at specific points, but overall her existence is a bit too plot convenient.
I do not think the protagonist being mostly fictional is bad for the film, In fact it probably drives the film’s plot forward the best way possible. However if Osama hadn’t died I do think the first protagonist is an actual person and thus made the character immensely more interesting in retrospect. It’s just a curious way to look at the film. Jessica Chastain may very well win an Oscar for her performance in this movie, which is certainly a solid choice; but a direct reflection of an actual person in a docu-drama appeals to me more. Apart from that the depiction of the assault on Bin Laden's compound seems to be roughly 95-99% historical with very little intrusion on the part of the director to either vilify or overly praise the participants; and is quite interesting in general.
Note: I still have to see Argo but other than that fairly prepared to write an Oscars post a la 2010, I also saw Drive recently which I think deserves a review and maybe some additional praise for 2011 as not quite as terrible as once believed.