Zero Dark Thirty

The controversy about the movie, Zero Dark Thirty, was purely based on a misconception, at least in my opinion. Maybe the critics were watching a different version of the movie than I was, or maybe it’s just that each brain works differently. To me it was obvious that the protagonist got very little information from torture. The fact that they had tortured detainees for a decade, and never got any closer to Osama Bin Laden proves that it wasn’t  the violence that bore fruit, but the non violent types of interrogation, that actually proved useful. Proper and thorough  detective  work carried out by analyst who actually examined the mountains of information compiled, combined with humane treatment of prisoners and some bribery, yielded the final results that led to finding and killing Bin Laden.

The real controversy should be why did our government employ such archaic, brutal and ultimately useless methods to gather intelligence. Not everyone talks under torture some people just die. Others resist but more often, people will say whatever the torturer wants them to say just to stop the pain. Torture isn’t a reliable source of information. Another thing about the movie that bothered me, was that they received a vital lead from a minor al Qaeda operative, that he had seen Bin Laden in Pakistan, but then failed to investigate that lead. Ultimately Bin Laden was found in Pakistan. It wasn’t the first time that the intelligence service has screwed up and probably not the last; the movie clearly points out this fact.

The criticism that Kathryn Bigelow was some how crediting the discovery of the whereabouts of Bin Laden to torture methods, is in my opinion unfounded. What I saw on screen was an hours worth of horrible interrogation methods, that yielded few results. From an objective point of view the director did not seem to take one point of view over another, but much like a journalist was simply reporting what was happening. We  now know, that torture was used, but even the experts agree that none of the information obtained from torture led to the final results.

It was pointed out to me by an unnamed source, that some of the criticism may be gender bias. Women directors in Hollywood have always had a harder time than men, and Bigelow is infringing on typically male territory. the war/action/thriller. This is Kathryn Bigelow’s second foray into the Iraq war, her first being the Hurt locker (2008) about an EOD team. So there may be some  credence to this theory.

Politics aside, I found the movie’s opening disturbing. The 911 calls of the panic stricken victims of the World Trade center made me want to cry. It was emotional overkill for me, because the last time I was in New York, was on july fourth 2001, when the twin towers were still standing. If I had never actually seen those buildings in reality, the impact of their destruction might have been blunted. Any director worth their salt knows how push the right buttons to draw the audience into the story. The opening did just what it was supposed to do, even though it was a bit heavy handed.

Most of the rest of the movie was depictions of torture, or of the protagonist viewing torture on a monitor. I found it to be redundant and draining and on the verge of boring. The high spots in the movie were the scenes that depicted inter office politics and maneuvering, together with brainwork and investigation. I think the movie would have been more interesting, if more of the foot work of the intelligence community had been revealed to the audience.

The movie picks up again in the last forty-five minutes when the big boys finally decide to do something. After analyzing and agonizing over the information, Seal team Six is finally give the go ahead to conduct an operation, in the territory of another  sovereign nation, without their knowledge or consent. This in it self was not only dangerous, but could and did create an international incident. Bigelow created the perfect blend of  the tension and confusion that comes with the fog of war. By making everything so dark the viewer was stumbling around in the dark trying desperately to keep up with the action on the screen. She resisted the urge to shoot the entire scene through the eerie green light of a night vision scope, which made the situation even more tense.

All in all this was a fairly decent movie although I could have done without all of the torture. I don’t think that it added much to the movie beyond the first uncomfortable visit by the movie’s female protagonist.

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