This generated a lot of controversy, over its depiction of torture, and its role in America tracking down Osama Bin Laden. But as a thriller, perhaps its biggest weakness is, you know how it's going to end: while Argo told a story of which most people were unaware, if you couldn't figure out that this would end with Seal Team Six kicking down doors and shooting the world's most wanted man dead, then you really need to get out more. It works better as a character study of Maya (Chastain), a CIA analyst whom we first see sitting in on a torture session of a suspected member of Al Qaeda is strung up and abused, with the aim of extracting information on the whereabouts of the group's head. Though the first thing we see - or rather hear, as it plays out on a black screen - is audio taken on 9/11, which acts as a stark reminder of why this kind of thing was deemed necessary [whether it was or not, is another question]. The hunt, over the years that follow, is peppered with re-enactments of various terrorist attacks, such as the bus bombings in London, or a suicide bomber at a US base that, but for her declining an invitation, might have taken out Maya. It's things like that which turn her into someone who can say to the head of the CIA, without any introduction, "I'm the motherfucker who discovered the place – sir."
There are some interesting insights into tradecraft, and the way in which information is obtained. A Saudi is given a Lamborghini, simply in exchange for providing a phone number, For that phone number belongs to the mother of one of Bin Laden's most trusted couriers, and when he calls her, the CIA is able to locate first him, and then through his movements, the compound in which an unidentified man appears to be making extremely strenuous efforts to hide himself. Is it their target? Again, this is where the fact that we all know the answer to the question, effectively removes any tension from proceedings. For the actual mission, Bigelow also makes the unfortunate decision to shoot large chunks of it "as if you were there", which means in near-total blackness. The brief moments when we get to see things through the night-vision goggles of the soldiers come as a blessed relief. The net result is something which is more interesting than engrossing, and from which I walked away with an undeniable respect for the CIA, but not much more.