American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Osama bin Laden is dead, which everybody knows, and the principal facts leading up to that are also well-known. The decision to market "Zero Dark Thirty" as a thriller therefore takes a certain amount of courage, even given the fascination with this most zero and dark of deaths. (The title is spy-speak for "half past midnight," the time of bin Laden's death.)
The film stars Jessica Chastain, the ubiquitous new star who now dominates the American acting landscape. One could even argue that the film is Jessica Chastain and her character. She plays "Maya," a lone wolf CIA agent who sticks to her conviction that bin Laden is not in a cave in Afghanistan, hunched over a kidney dialysis machine, but is likely living in relatively open sight.
In reality, when the terrorist was finally tracked down and taken out, the universal astonishment was that his hiding place was a large, walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and that his residence there was relatively widely known -- in the same area, anyway, as the location of a Pakistan military college.
Most of the film involves the search of the allied side, including the tracing down of leads that many Americans considered too obvious and in plain sight to be plausible. To Maya, however, that is the whole beauty of bin Laden's scheme; one is reminded of Poe's "The Purloined Letter": It is wise to conceal something in plain sight. What takes imagination is to act on it -- to back her hunch with the impulse to believe it is plausible. Here is a disagreement between the time-honored methods of espionage and a quicker, more intuitive approach involving a hunch too good to be true.