- Kathryn Bigelow
Part 1: THE SAUDI GROUP
Two Years After Sept. 11, 2001 CIA BLACK SITE:
CIA Operative, Dan (Jason Clarke) walks into a dingy room where a terrorist financier, Ammar (Reda Kateb), is being held captive. Several other CIA members are present, but they are wearing balaclavas to shield their identities. Dan makes the rules clear to Ammar: If Ammar doesn’t do what Dan asks him to do, such as to look at him when he’s being addressed, Dan says he will hurt Ammar. Also, if Ammar steps off the mat he’s on, or lies about anything, Dan will hurt him for that too. Dan has Ammar put in additional restraints and beckons to one of the masked individuals to follow him outside. He orders his men not to talk to Ammar.
Outside, the masked individual removes the mask, revealing that she is a young CIA agent named Maya (Jessica Chastain). Dan apologizes for how intense the interrogation is, realizing that Maya has only recently come from Washington and is new to field operations. Dan explains that their process takes a while because Ammar needs to know how helpless he is. He offers to get her a coffee but she tells him that they should go back in. He offers to return her balaclava but she declines, noting that he’s not covering his face. She asks if Ammar is ever getting out. “Never” says Dan.
The pair go back in and Dan tells Ammar that he needs to understand his situation. He informs Ammar that he knows all about him, and has had plenty of opportunities to kill him, but let him live so they could have this talk. Ammar screams that Dan is nothing more than a garbage man for his corporation, but Dan retorts that Ammar is a terrorist who helped finance the September 11th attack in the USA, and was caught with explosives in his house when they came for him. Dan also makes it clear he doesn’t want to talk about Sept. 11, but instead wants to know about the “Saudi Group” that Ammar is associated with. Ammar refuses to talk, so Dan’s men set up mats and Dan forces him to the ground. Dan asks Maya to hands him a bucket of water and a towel so that Dan can water board Ammar. He asks Ammar to give him an email address, and demands to know when was the last time Ammar saw Bin Laden. At the end of the session, without receiving any additional information, Dan makes it clear to Ammar that in the end everyone breaks.
Maya sits in a waiting room. Dan brings their boss, station chief Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), to meet her. She mentions that what she saw was a bit fucked up and Bradley is surprised, having assumed that she volunteered for this position. Bradley buzzes her into a secure wing and Dan asks Joseph if he thinks Maya is ready, but Bradley just points out that the CIA needs to break in the next generation.
Maya settles at her desk and waits until she is brought into a small conference room where fellow CIA agents Jessica (Jennifer Ehle), Jack (Harold Perrineau), Thomas (Jeremy Strong), and J.J. (J.J. Kandel) are working on the latest intelligence reports. Dan points out that Ammar is withholding what he knows about the Saudi Group, while Jennifer gives updates on the latest leads. Maya points out that some of their assumptions are based on pre-9/11 behavior, rendered moot by the invasion of Afghanistan.
Morning prayers wake Maya from an uneasy sleep on her couch. She and Dan check in on Ammar, who is still suspended by rope and deprived of sleep courtesy of heavy metal music. Dan pulls up a chair and seats Ammar in it, providing him with a bottle of fruit juice and some food. He again asks Ammar about the Saudi Group and Ammar insists that he only handles money, that he doesn’t know who the guys that he finances are. Dan kicks the chair out from under Ammar and has Ammar pulled up by the ropes tied to his wrists, then rips down his pants, exposing him to Maya, and asking Ammar if he had shit himself.
Dan and the other agents leave, putting Maya alone in the room with Ammar. Ammar tells Maya that Dan is an animal and begs her for help. She tells him that he can help himself by being truthful. Dan returns with a dog collar and forces it around Ammar’s neck, then acting as though he’s Dan’s dog and needs to be walked. He drags him over to a box, smaller than a coffin, threatening to put Ammar in there if Ammar doesn’t tell him about the next planned attack. Ammar names several days of the week, but won’t specify a not a location, so Dan and the other men force him into the box and leave him there.
May 29, 2004.
A group of al Qaida terrorists shoot civilians in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, targeting non-Muslims and Americans. Jessica, Dan, and Maya watch the footage in the aftermath. Jessica tells Dan that the massacre is not on him, but Dan insists that since Ammar is their prisoner, the deaths are on him, and Maya. Jessica points out that there are still other plots in motion that they can wring out of Ammar, including a planned attack in the London-Heathrow area. Maya realizes that since Ammar has been in complete isolation, they can lie about the outcome of the Khobar attack and claim that it was thwarted as a result of what he had told them in his sleep-deprived state.
Ammar is brought out of his confinement and informed that his intel was good. Dan asks what Ammar did after the invasion. Ammar said the choice was to fight or run, and he wanted to kill Americans. He continues to talk about the members of the al Qaida cell, but in vague terms, until Dan makes it clear that he will put Ammar back in the box if Ammar doesn’t start naming names. Ammar spills all the details he can, including that his uncle once worked for Bin Laden and that Ammar had seen him in Karachi, with a letter from the shah, which said to keep working on the jihad and keep it renewed for a hundred years. Finally Ammar gives them a name: Abu Ahmed.
Part 2: ABU AHMED
Maya watches a computer monitor and studies old interrogation tapes, looking at each of the suspects and studying their stories. Apparently, Osama Bin Laden uses a complex network of carriers to relay messages to his supporters. She takes a break to make some food and Jessica walks in to ask how the search for the needle in the haystack is going. Jessica suggests that at the end of the day, everyone can be swayed with money, an idea that Maya questions since it doesn’t fit the motivations of a jihadist. But Jessica retorts that the weaker members would be swayed with money.
Putting on a dark colored wig to conceal her red hair, Maya is escorted to a CIA Black Site in Poland. Hakim (Fares Fares), a fellow agent and interpreter, brings her to their prisoner. They ask him a few questions and he claims that he had contact with a man known only as Fahraj. Maya is suspicious that the suspect is simply making it up until the prisoner names all of Fahraj’s children. He confirms that there was a network in place to pass messages on. Maya takes this information back to Bradley and gives him a report. Bradley points out that her hunt for Abu Ahmed has been fruitless because she doesn’t know his real name or where to find him. She retorts that the fact that everyone has heard of Abu Ahmed means that he is important. He tells her to let him know when there’s actionable intelligence so that they can order a strike.
London, England. July 7, 2005.
A double decker bus explodes. News footage of this latest AQ attack plays out on Bradley’s computer monitor and in Maya’s kitchen. On Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, Dan feeds a pet monkey from his ice cream cone when he is informed that his detainee is ready. Maya is escorted into an ISI Detention Center in Pakistan. Her detainee is cooperative and tells her everything she wants to know about Abu Ahmed, a most trusted courier who cannot be found because he is one of the “disappeared ones.”
A man has an object strapped to his leg and is told, God willing, they will not have to use it. We follow the man as he walks through a complex where children are playing. His walk is observed by Dan. Individuals dressed like Muslim woman in all black follow him as he goes to meet with Fahraj. The Muslim women are revealed to be soldiers who grab Fahraj and swarm around him, rifles pointed at his chest. Bradley presents Maya with paperwork and tells her that she has a one on one with Fahraj.
Dan escorts Fahraj to his cage a private cell with barbed wire around the sides. Dan says that he’s bad news for men like Fahraj and that Dan isn’t going to help him, he’s going to break him. Asked if he’s hungry, Fahraj has a tube shoved down his throat and blended food is forced down his throat. He is a difficult prisoner, so Maya asks Dan if he will take a crack at Fahraj but he says no, he’s done this long enough. He’s getting sent back to go to Washington and do something normal. He asks her to come back with him and be his number 2 but she says she won’t find Abu Ahmed from DC. Dan warns her that politics are changing and that she needs to make sure she’s not the last one holding the dog collar when the investigators arrive. And since everyone knows her in Pakistan she’s going to need to start watching her back.
September 20, 2008, Marriott Hotel, Islamabad, Pakistan.
Jessica waits at a table and waves to Maya as she arrives, still attached to her phone. Maya apologizes for being late because of the check points. Jessica reminds Maya that they are socializing and pours her a glass of wine. Maya makes it clear that Abu Ahmed’s mystique confirms his importance. Suddenly, a bomb goes off outside the Marriott destroying most of the interior. Maya and Jessica struggle to find an exit, passing numerous staff and diners who have either been killed or wounded by the bomb. A truck outside had been stopped at a check point. The driver then detonated the truck’s payload of explosives.
Part 3: THE MEETING
Tribal Territories, Pakistan: A meeting of Bin Laden’s inner circle occurs while someone records it. Jessica walks up to Maya, ecstatic and proclaiming that the Jords have a mole. She shows Maya the video of the meeting and explains that a Jordanian doctor has made it into the inner circle. Bradley doesn’t buy it but the Jords claimed that money and patriotic duty would be enough to sway him from Bin Laden and the jihad. Maya points out that the guy is full of shit and they just have to meet him face to face. She helps Jessica convince Bradley to approve the operation.
Jessica tries to get the doctor to come to Islamabad, but the doctor refuses on the grounds that traveling out of the Muslim world would make him appear to be a flight risk. An interview of Obama talking about America’s moral stature plays in the background as Jessica tells Maya that the doctor would be willing to meet with Jessica in the Tribal territories. Maya points out that as a white woman Jessica would definitely be kidnapped. They brainstorm with a fellow agent who suggests Camp Chapman in Afghanistan as a safe area of compromise.
On the phone with Maya, Jessica decorates a cake for the doctor. Maya laughs and points out that Muslims don’t celebrate with cake. Jessica scolds her for being so literal and invites Maya out. Maya declines – it is Jessica’s lead and she deserves to run the show.
Jessica meets with a CIA agent, John, for drinks and they toast to the doctor their first big break since 9/11. She’s cross-checked all the information that they’ve been provided with and it checks out. The money that the doctor would stand to receive – million, would buys a new life. John posits that the doctor is exaggerating his access to Bin Laden but Jessica points out that in 6 months to a year, the doctor could be treating Bin Laden. With the money on the table, the doctor will flip – or they’ll kill him.
December 30, 2009.
Jessica and the other interrogators wait out outside at the base and everyone is on edge. Jessica is excited about the meeting, but the doctor is late. Just when he looks like a no-show, a car appears on the horizon and gets stopped at a check point. Jessica insists that he be ushered through the check point without being searched, per the agreement they had made beforehand. The officer in charge of security reluctantly agrees and the car is driven in and an old man gets out. When the soldiers order him to take his hand out of his pockets, he detonates a bomb, killing everyone in the vicinity including Jessica and John.
Maya hears the news about the bombing and is distraught. Several co-workers come and talk to her, giving her updates including news that a detainee has confirmed Abu Ahmed as dead. Maya is on the edge of a breakdown. That night, Jack approaches her to console her about Jessica’s death and asks what she’s going to do now. She tells Jack that she’s going to smoke out everyone involved in the operation and kill Bin Laden.
George (Mark Strong) arrives to brief Maya and her co-workers in the aftermath of the bombing, angrily pointing out that they are losing the fight against their enemy. He yells that they haven’t done shit, that killing four of the 20 members of Bin Laden’s inner circle is a terrible success rate. He demands they do their jobs and bring him people to kill.
A young female agent who admires Maya, approaches her and hands her a file on a man called Ibrahim Sayeed, whose extended family was involved in terrorist activities. The agent tells Maya that it was a lead that had been on the backburner for a while, as a result of all the white noise. Maya goes over the Abu Ahmed files one more time and realizes that Sayeed and Abu Ahmed have many similar facial features, due to their family relations. Maya calls Dan in Washington and points out that Abu Ahmed might not be dead, since the three eldest brothers looked alike, that the picture they’ve been associating with him is wrong. Abu Ahmed is still in play. She asks him to move heaven and earth and get the Sayeed family’s phone number.
Dan goes to talk to “The Wolf” (Fredric Lehne), a shadowy high-ranking official in the U.S. government, and requests a couple hundred thousand dollars to break open Maya’s lead. The Wolf tells Dan that there is a lot of oversight going on and that the investigators will not stop until they have a body. Dan makes a deal with the Wolf. If the Wolf backs him financially, he will return the favor by defending the methods used to an oversight committee.
Kuwait City, Kuwait.
Dan meets with one of his highly placed contacts and buys him a Lamborghini in exchange for the Sayeed family’s phone number. Maya meets with Larry (Edgar Ramirez) from Ground Branch and has him start hunting for Abu Ahmed. Larry and Hakim go for a drive in the city and begin to trace the identity of the Sayeed brother who is likely Abu Ahmed.
May 1, 2010. Times Square.
In the aftermath of an attempted car bombing in NYC, Maya tries to talk to Bradley about the ground surveillance on the caller, which Bradley says they don’t have. Bradley wants to dismiss her lead because it is not relevant. He says he doesn’t give a shit about Bin Laden, he only cares about stopping the next attack. Their goal is to protect the homeland, but Bradley points out that Maya’s lead is only a fucking facilitator. Maya threatens Bradley, telling him to give her the team she needs or send her back to DC and face a hearing before congress to be the first station chief to be called before congress for subverting the effort to find and kill Bin Laden. Bradley tells her she’s fucking crazy but gives the order.
Jack approaches Maya in a bar and gives her a cell phone, telling her the suspect bought a new phone and they cloned a copy, so that whenever his phone rings this cloned phone will ring as well. Hakim, Larry, and a third agent follow the signal from the phone in Pakistan. After briefly being stopped, and threatened by locals who recognize them as not belonging there, they drive away and are able to find the owner of the cell phone. They ID him and photograph him and his vehicle.
A crowd of protesters outside the CIA facility in Pakistan protest against Bradley. Bradley had been named in a lawsuit by the family of a victim of a drone strike by the ISI. Bradley is recalled to the United States, removing him from his position. Maya tells him that the ISI fucked him, but he says nothing.
Larry and Hakim follow the suspect’s vehicle to a compound in Islamabad. As Maya leaves her house, a pair of