UPDATE: The Senate Intelligence Committee has begun a review of the contacts between "Zero Dark Thirty" director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal and CIA officials to determine if inappropriate access to secret information was given, following the committee chairwoman's "outrage" over the film's scenes that imply "enhanced interrogations." Days after the film's December 19 release, three U.S. Senators issued a statement decrying the depiction of torture in the film as not accurate, and CIA acting director Michael Morell stated that the film "takes significant artistic license." Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, who won an Oscar for torture documentary "Taxi to the Dark Side," laid out the reported facts of the case against the film's fiction.
On the other hand, The Atlantic writer Mark Bowden writes that No, "Zero Dark Thirty" Is Not Pro-Torture. Bowden, himself an expert on the subject (his most recent book is "The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden"), argues that "torture may be morally wrong, and it may not be the best way to obtain information from detainees, but it played a role in America's messy, decade-long pursuit of Osama bin Laden, and 'Zero Dark Thirty' is right to portray that fact." Read his very thorough argument here.
While it's to be expected that Washington politicians and even Gibney, who has reason to have an anti-torture bias, would step up to present their version of the facts, the more damaging story inside the Hollywood beltway that could hurt the film's Oscar chances is the one Kim Masters wrote for The Hollywood Reporter: The Unorthodox Relationship Between Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal. It's fascinating to see how reporting on their on-off romantic relationship or Boal's supposed behavior on set comes up in casual holiday cocktail conversation. This stuff can be lethal.
Sony may have gone too far with marketing this movie as a true story, purportedly real. Yes, Boal is a bonafide journalist who reported in the trenches alongside newspaper staffers and non-fiction authors. But as he said duringhis and Bigelow's must-see interview on the Charlie Rose show, he didn't have to lay out his sources and back up his quotes. He is writing a fictionalized account, as many Hollywood writers have done. This one is much closer to recent history, however, and therefore carries all sorts of political baggage. As Bigelow and Boal have found out the hard way.
What's more revealing is how much this indie duo seem to threaten the status quo in Hollywood. It was one thing to award a top-notch woman director an Oscar for a small indie film that never grossed much at the box office. Now she's playing in the big show in more ways than one. And getting slammed.
NOV. 26: As soon as Richard Corliss posted his "Zero Dark Thirty" review in Time, the trades went ahead and posted theirs (see round-up below), and movie sites soon followed suit. (The NYT ran interviews with Bigelow and Boal.) I saw the first screening of the final 2 hour and 39 minute film Sunday afternoon at a SAG screening at the Pacific Design Center. At the Q & A afterward, an exhausted Bigelow admitted that she had signed off on the final mix just four days ago.