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Kathryn Bigelow Talks "Torture" Controversy, Her First "Failed" 'Hunt For Osama Bin Laden' Film & More About 'Zero Dark Thirty'

by Rodrigo Perez
December 27, 2012 4:31 PM
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One of our favorite tweets of the week comes from Playlist contributor James Rocchi. It should speak for itself.

In case it doesn't, here's the rundown: Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," her follow-up to the Oscar-winning Best Picture "The Hurt Locker" depicts the eight-year hunt for Osama Bin Laden (our review calls it "one of the best of the year," and "an intense and dense" national security procedural). Bigelow and her screenwriter Mark Boal, also an investigative journalist, received flak earlier this year and were the target of controversy when accusations flew that the CIA gave them special access to classified documents regarding the Bin Laden hunt. Boal said earlier this year that the picture was not vetted by the CIA, and that seems to be the case as Acting CIA Director Michael Morell recently criticized the film in a letter to his employees, stating the film takes too many liberties with the truth while still claiming to be historically accurate. Making matters worse are those pundits that have jumped on the bandwagon and dubbed the film "pro-torture" because those tactics were among those used to assist in the capture and killing of Bin Laden (that kind of logic is pretty hilarious, frankly). During the press day for "Zero Dark Thirty" earlier this month, Bigelow herself addressed the "pro-torture" claims, and discussed other aspects of getting the movie made. Here are five highlights:

Bigelow said the torture/interrogation sequences had to be included because they're "part of the history."
"There's no question that methodology is controversial but there was no debate about whether or not to include it in the movie because it's part of the history," she said. "That's an element we were working with. It was a question of working with the material and finding the right tone and balance. And also exploring other methodologies. Over the course of the decade many different approaches were utilized. Throughout that decade you see all the permutations and surveillance that were utilized. And the rest is history. It was all about finding the right balance."

Bigelow and Mark Boal were originally working on another Bin Laden movie that got scrapped in 2011 when the al Qaeda leader was captured and killed.
"Originally, we were working on a different project, still about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden but about the failed hunt in 2001. This took place in December of 2001. And while Mark was working on the screenplay, quite far along, [Bin Laden was killed] and we realized, after some soul searching, it would be a little bit difficult to make a movie about the failed hunt for Osama bin Laden after the whole world knew that he had been killed," she explained. "After much debate, we pivoted. And Mark, being an investigative journalist, set about to report the current story of 2011 as history revealed itself."

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More: Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow

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  • Jaimee | December 28, 2012 3:08 AMReply

    As one critic put it, which is funny, "the only torture is watching the movie itself." The film makers should just accept the public's response and not have all Bigelow's well placed friends write stunning reviews everywhere for her. She's practically nominated herself for an Oscar.

  • DeuceBigelow0 | December 28, 2012 2:51 AMReply

    Oh my God, the spin!! "Accusations" didn't "fly" about Bigelow And Boal "having special access" to CIA information, they BRAGGED about basing their script "on classified information" in Variety Magazine in 2011. Go read the article. Wake up!! The public is intelligent!

  • RNL | December 27, 2012 8:41 PMReply

    I don't see an anti-torture statement in all her apologetics about "different methodologies".

  • shane | December 27, 2012 6:34 PMReply

    All hunt-for-osama films will always be failures.

  • DrDang | December 27, 2012 5:40 PMReply

    Also, what Tim said.

  • DrDang | December 27, 2012 5:32 PMReply

    I'm anticipating this movie like crazy and I'm hoping to walk away with the same experience and opinion as the writer. However, I would like to add something to the debate. It's a movie, movies are subjective, history is perceived differently etc are good arguments but they are also smart arguments. I think the concern that some of the journalists (and I) have is what the casual moviegoer will walk away with. The fact that this films aspires (and apparently succeeds) to be hyper-realistic only confounds this. Compare this with, say the accuracy debate over The Social Network, which *felt* highly dramatised from the get go; and I think that in this case the pundits may have more of a point.

  • Tim | December 27, 2012 5:17 PMReply

    "Making matters worse are those pundits that have jumped on the bandwagon and dubbed the film 'pro-torture' because those tactics were among those used to assist in the capture and killing of Bin Laden (that kind of logic is pretty hilarious, frankly)."

    It's amazing that after all of the protracted debate about this, this simple fact is still unclear to so many people: those tactics were NOT used to assist in the capture and killing of Bin Laden. THAT'S the reason for the controversy. If you read the letter written by the Senators who objected to the film, and who have actually read the classified reports, this distortion is precisely the reason they are publicly objecting. I've yet to see the film, and so I can't comment on its depiction of torture (from what I've read, calling it "pro-torture" seems overblown), but the only part of this debate I see as being "pretty hilarious" is the part where those defending that depiction as an accurate representation of the historical record don't even understand what that record is.

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