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'Zero Dark Thirty' Review and Torture Debate - Senate Committee Probing Bigelow and Boal's CIA Contact [UPDATED]

Reviews
by Anne Thompson & Sophia Savage
January 3, 2013 3:31 PM
13 Comments
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Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow

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.

13 Comments

  • JAB | January 14, 2013 9:10 PMReply

    Did anybody critical of the torture scenes in ZDT ever see "Syrianna"? That scene with Clooney getting his finger nails pulled out was MUCH tougher to watch than anything is this movie.
    ZDT is just a flat great movie that will stand the test of time. It is not nearly as entertaining as "Argo" (which I love) but is just as riveting . ZDT is more like an "All The President's Men" in its approach to its storytelling & pacing. Like you I like it as much as for what it doesn't give us almost as much for what it did give us. Chastain has a great role to work with & she excells in it. Jason Clarke, Edgerton, Gandolfini, Jennifer Ehle & the rest of the cast are all top rate. This is one helluva movie.

  • TrueDarkness | January 4, 2013 4:49 PMReply

    As a soldier, I watched Zero Dark Thirty with a different perspective to the average audience member. I saw the torture scenes, and my VERY FIRST THOUGHT was "damn, that's pretty accurate". Although it is a war-crime, it happens. We are trained (special/elite ops) not just how to survive and overcome torture, but obviously how to dish it out (the best defense is a good offense). Now 99% of soldiers/naval officers/marines/airman will never use it. But there is that minority, who in the heat of the moment, does things no human being should do. Those moments are the ones shown in the torture scenes. It does happen. In almost every military world wide. Accept it, and move on. The job gets done, and mass murderer and terrorists are eliminated.

  • TrueDarkness | January 4, 2013 4:47 PMReply

    As a soldier, I watched Zero Dark Thirty with a different perspective to the average audience member. I saw the torture scenes, and my VERY FIRST THOUGHT was "damn, that's pretty accurate". Although it is a war-crime, it happens. We are trained (special/elite ops) not just how to survive and overcome torture, but obviously how to dish it out (the best defense is a good offense). Now 99% of soldiers/naval officers/marines/airman will never use it. But there is that minority, who in the heat of the moment, does things no human being should do. Those moments are the ones shown in the torture scenes. It does happen. In almost every military world wide. Accept it, and move on. The job gets done, and mass murderer and terrorists are eliminated.

  • Evin C | January 3, 2013 8:38 PMReply

    So the US Govt. is giving Zero Dark Thirty a bunch of crap and stirring up all this heat because they think the film is pro-torture? Does the US Govt. have any faith in movie going audiences to let them form their own opinions, or do they automatically think that all Americans are going to see it that way? Censorship much. Let's face it, anyone with common sense could have guessed that some kind of torture "may" have been used in the hunt for Osama. This is America, it's not as perfect as everyone wishes it was. The govt. should just bite the bullet and let the public come to their own conclusions.

  • Is Oscar season over yet? | January 3, 2013 6:54 PMReply

    Awards season is truly insufferable. I'm sick of ZDT, sick of these inconsequential debates, sick of the politicking, sick of the relentless campaigning and I'm sick of Jessica Chastain and this contrived feminist schtick. Can this all be over already, so we can return to the movies?

  • Anne Thompson | January 3, 2013 4:18 PMReply

    We're both right. She was born in America and raised in London; she's the daughter of Brit actress Rosemary Harris. She has a British accent.

  • jg | January 3, 2013 4:11 PMReply

    Chastain may have done her homework, but none of these smug, head up their ass "critics" have done likewise. None seem to know anything whatsoever about the case, and easily accept the lies of the CIA torturers as good enough resemblance to fact. The Nazis would have loved such a non-critical "critical" environment. Some inconvenient facts -- torture is a felony. A war crime, a violation of the Geneva conventions. There is no statute of limitations. It also didn't lead to any information about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, and therefore the film presents clear lies to the viewers. The Real "Maya" -- http://wp.me/pwAWe-Sc

  • jg | January 3, 2013 4:11 PMReply

    Chastain may have done her homework, but none of these smug, head up their ass "critics" have done likewise. None seem to know anything whatsoever about the case, and easily accept the lies of the CIA torturers as good enough resemblance to fact. The Nazis would have loved such a non-critical "critical" environment. Some inconvenient facts -- torture is a felony. A war crime, a violation of the Geneva conventions. There is no statute of limitations. It also didn't lead to any information about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, and therefore the film presents clear lies to the viewers. The Real "Maya" -- http://wp.me/pwAWe-Sc

  • Josh | January 3, 2013 4:10 PMReply

    Ehle is American.

  • JAB | November 27, 2012 11:26 PMReply

    I can't wait to catch this film. I've been a Bigelow fan since "Near Dark" (the best vampire film ever made in a genre filled with a lot of really good films). "Blue Steel", "Point Break", the under-rated "Strange Days" &, of course, her well-deserved Oscar winning "The Hurt Locker" are movies I've seen several times. We've had "The Dark Knight Rises", "Argo", "Lincoln" as cinematic high marks (I haven't caught "...Playbook" yet) & now comes ZDT.

  • ag | November 26, 2012 2:10 PMReply

    wait. richard corliss says, "First and last, Zero Dark Thirty is a movie, and a damned fine one." really? that's what passes as movie criticism now? zdt 'is a movie...'

  • Corvo | November 26, 2012 9:47 AMReply

    Jingoistic feminism. Laughable.

  • Feminist unite | November 26, 2012 1:53 AMReply

    Girl power rah-rah-rah. She's so tough she eats nails for breakfast and can kill American's number one enemy before 5AM.

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