I was excited to see Zero Dark Thirty (imdb | rotten tomatoes) today, but also a little nervous. I was worried that it would be like The Hurt Locker — heaped with critical acclaim that I didn’t quite share*. I also worried that it would be too jingoistic, given the subject matter.
But nope: my fears were allayed. I thought it was really good, a nine-year procedural that somehow maintained pacing and suspense in spite of the audience knowing the full outcome. It was stark, which made it raw and helped it avoid any of the myriad traps it might have fallen into in the hands of another director.
As for the controversy that’s sprung up around the film’s depicted use of torture, I’m not sure I understand the criticism. Everyone knows the CIA and American military were using torture as a method of extracting information in the years following 9/11. The film depicted this, but didn’t seem to glorify it — some characters are clearly disturbed by it, at least at first, and the CIA operatives actually refer to it dispassionately as a potential political minefield. I’m not defending torture in any way, nor am I saying those people were right to be dispassionate, if in fact it happened that way. I’m saying that’s almost certainly what was happening, and would prefer the film has the guts to face up to that ugly truth rather than gloss over it. I didn’t even get the sense that the film was drawing a straight line between torture and the killing of Osama Bin Laden, though some are accusing it of such. More likely, they’re attacking the misinterpretation of the film by people like Congressman Peter King who’re making the case for more torture.
However, you can’t fault a film when politicians twist the story to fit their own narrative. All you can do is respect it for telling a long, ugly, problematic, grinding story without falling into Hollywood cliché.
* I didn’t like Hurt Locker when I saw it at TIFF. I really liked it the second time I watched it, but it’s faded a bit in my mind since.
Photo by Sajjad Ali Qureshi, used under Creative Commons license