It is hard to accurately tell a story that spans more than a decade and involves a real-world cast of thousands. So Bigelow and Boal develop their narrative through the eyes of a small number of characters, such as a CIA officer they call Maya. I do not want to diminish the contributions of any individual. Indeed, I have often said that a handful of officers, mainly women, in the Counterterrorism Center deserve a disproportionately large share of the credit for the relentless focus that eventually brought bin Laden to his well-deserved demise. But, while there are real-world equivalents of Maya and her colleagues in “Zero Dark Thirty,” the successes and the failures in this mission were the work of many, not a few.
The film includes another female character, unnamed in the movie but clearly based on CIA officer Jennifer Matthews, who tragically was killed in the 2009 suicide bombing at an agency base in Khost, Afghanistan. Perhaps to build up the Maya character, the filmmakers wrongly portray this other woman as overly ambitious and less than serious. The real person was an exceptionally talented officer who was responsible for some enormous intelligence successes, including playing a prominent role in the capture of al-Qaeda logistics expert Abu Zubaida in 2002. Her true story and memory deserve much better.